A queue started to form at 6am outside The Fillmore in Philadelphia. Throughout the day, the number of eager fans waiting out in the cold in order to be as close as possible to the stage grew gradually but steadily. Doors were at 7pm. Who were they there for? The Japanese House.
On her second headline North American tour in less than a year, The Japanese House visited 23 cities, with stops at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, and a final, sold out date at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. On the final leg of her tour, she stopped at The Foundry at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, where she had played before in November of 2016, for a sold-out show.
Newcomer and Toronto native Blaise Moore opened the show, and took the stage punctually at 8pm. She played songs off her debut EP, Laurence, that tells the story of Moore’s romance with a Londoner named Laurence and her subsequent heartbreak. Moore’s onstage presence was a perfect reflection of the strong and vulnerable persona she presents herself as in her tracks, and she oozed confidence and style. The crowd eased into her R&B, sultry tunes and it didn’t take long for them to start swaying along and mouthing the lyrics to her catchy choruses. Stand out songs were “Friends”, the EP’s lead single, and “Stutter”, whose catchy beats and fast-paced lyrics which Moore almost raps were an instant hit with the audience – it really was hard not to ponder on Moore’s final question, “Did I fucking stutter?” after she left the stage.
About half an hour later, the lights dim and synths announce that The Japanese House will soon take the stage. Freddy Sheed, the drummer, and Willy Bishop, keyboardist and bassist, take their positions and are greeted with excited cheers from the audience. The intro track winds up and the familiar starting notes of “Clean” begin, and a smiling Amber Bain takes the stage. Needless to say, the crowd goes wild. Bain skyrockets the energy level in the room seconds after stepping onstage, when she plays the first note of the guitar riff on “Clean”, and the gig has officially begun. She wears and plays the guitar like it’s almost an extension of her, and her familiarity with the instrument is also shown in how she plays it: Bain is left-handed, but plays a right-handed guitar flipped upside down without changing the order of the strings. She starts singing, and the track sounds incredibly similar to its studio version – something which was probably not easy to achieve considering how intricate her songs are. Bain’s trademark layered vocals (which she once said was inspired by The Beach Boys, whose shirt she wears onstage) are also achieved live, and if you look out at the crowd there is awe, passion, and joy in their eyes.
She follows the opener with “Teeth”, a track off of her debut EP Pools to Bathe In. The sentimentality of the song slows down the mood of the room, and the crowd gently sways while those who are familiar with her music mouth the song’s most famous lyrics “and it was so brief”. “Cool Blue”, one of her most upbeat songs, comes next, and the swaying crowd morphs into a dancing one. Bain bobs her head to the song’s beat, and before the last chorus climbs onto Sheed’s drums and in a full-on rockstar moment jumps off of it while playing the guitar. The three band members’ interactions throughout the show are enthusiastic and supportive of one another, there is a sense of genuine friendship and enjoyment while they play, all of which collaborate extensively to how in sync they are and how well they make the songs come together.
Bain stops after the third song to chat to her fans and thank the fan who gave her the Beach Boys shirt, which she now proclaims is her favourite shirt. Her engagement with the crowd adds a sense of intimacy to the show, and she manages to create an environment which makes every person in the 450-capacity room feel like they are her friend. Her giggly personality provides a sharp contrast to her music, which shows her more emotional and moody side.
All of The Japanese House’s released tracks off of her three EPs are played during the concert. It is in “Good side in”, off her latest EP Swim Against the Tide, where Bain proves her skills as a guitarist, and “Face Like Thunder” is another crowd-pleaser which gets people moving. During one of Bain’s guitar changes, someone in the crowd screams “Willy, you’ve got a face like thunder!” at the bassist, and he jokingly replies with “No, you’ve got a face like thunder”. Bain then takes this moment to applaud her onstage companions and tease Bishop momentarily. Interestingly enough, Sheed and Bishop have amassed a following almost as devote and big as Bain’s, it was not rare to hear them being individually cheered on during the performance and after the show several fans asked for their autographs and for photos with them.
They close the show with “Still,” The Japanese House’s debut single, and a choir of people sing the chorus along with Bain. The excited atmosphere does not die down after Bain, Bishop, and Sheed step off the stage, and you can see groups in the crowd enthusiastically talk to each other about the past hour. A little after the show, band members come out to greet and speak to fans, taking their time to make sure everyone who wants a picture has it.
It should have felt odd to see such alternative, contemporary music be played on a stage with a red velvet backdrop, which is reminiscent of tradition. But it is safe to say that Amber Bain felt at home on that stage because The Japanese House is a modern classic, and with the imminent release of a fourth EP and debut album, her star is only starting to shine.
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cover © Nicole Almeida