Excitement ran high on the night of Sept. 17, as cheers and jeers rang down Telegraph Avenue in anticipation for Cal’s first home game against the University of Texas’ football team, the Texas Longhorns.
At the same time, on the other side of campus in Lower Sproul, a small crowd was forming around the stage erected by ASUC SUPERB for the evening. It was sparse — besides the staff setting up for the event, there were only what appeared to be a few dedicated fans of Porches, the band headlining the show that night. After the success of its well-received album Pool, Porches is currently touring with Japanese Breakfast, making a stop at Berkeley before playing in San Francisco the following night.
The night opened with Japanese Breakfast, a charming band led by the half-Korean guitarist and lead singer Michelle Zauner. Following her mother’s death due to cancer, Zauner released a deeply personal debut album entitled Psychopomp.
In the absence of a typically brightly lit stage were purple lights that barely illuminated the faces of the performers, setting the stage for what would make a profoundly cathartic performance.
A unique type of intimacy arises when a crowd is of a such a small size, as the audience was allowed to be so close to the stage. With only a bar that reached almost to the end of the stage separating the audience from the performers, it was difficult to not be engaged throughout. Japanese Breakfast’s proximity to the crowd fostered a sense of honesty in the performance, where the audience was tuned into each of the fine movements in front of them, clutching onto each gesture, facial expression and word.
Zauner’s heartfelt lyrics crept into the audience’s psyche, as she utilized her loss to craft an emotional link through her music. Her stage presence developed into a wide variety of performances, ranging from songs where she twisted and danced on stage with the strums of the accompanying ensemble, to mellower songs where she somberly crooned to audience members of past memories.
Halfway through the set, she noted that the crowd was composed of “the indoor kids of college.” “I identify with those groups of people,” she said. She paused, looking around Lower Sproul, and remarked that she felt like she was in a mall rather than a college. Zauner went on to explain how she was just at one to pick out her outfit for the performance that night.
“We are at the mall,” joked Aaron Maine, lead singer of New York-based synthpop band Porches. “Again.”
As the band set up onstage, Maine finished off his cigarette and walked on, bright bleached hair a stark contrast to his entirely black outfit, complete with an oversized black hoodie. He was almost an exact incarnation of the “indoor kids” Zauner talked about earlier.
Those die-hard fans of Porches who were waiting since the beginning were in for a treat: a well-oiled set, with the songs just as cohesive as they were on the album, elevated even further by Maine’s live voice. It was a refined performance, thoroughly practiced to produce the magic that made their last album so popular.
On “Underwater,” Maine unveiled his remarkable use of falsetto, dripping with warm passion and desire. Porches also played several of its other hits from Pool, including “Be Apart” and “Mood.
Porches didn’t shy away from its earlier music, though, playing “Headsgiving” from its first full-length album Slow Dance in the Cosmos, complete with an explosive guitar riff that instantly caused an epidemic of heads bumping up and down to the contagious track.
Maine’s performance had hints of theatricality despite his generally aloof nature. He constantly contorted his face in atypical ways, engaging in mysterious hand gestures and hip sways throughout, crafting an intriguing and original stage presence. The experience was furthered by his nonchalant, deadpan comments. In one instance, near the end of the set, Maine attempted to get the crowd riled up, yelling, “I want you to be pissed!”
Despite their aesthetic differences, both Porches and Japanese Breakfast emitted a sense of sad truthfulness dressed up in flashy tunes. The two acts allowed the audience, although not part of the victorious crowd leaving the game, to have their own win as “the indoor kids of college.”