Photos by Campbell Parish
By Ella Mastroianni, Staff Writer
I “Saw You In a Dream,” but thankfully, I saw the Japanese House in real life. This moniker belongs to 28-year-old Englander Amber Bain, who has been releasing music under this name since 2015. The Japanese House makes alternative indie-pop music and is best known for songs such as “Saw You In a Dream,” and “Maybe You're the Reason.” Her discography is filled with songs with tender lyrics, usually accompanied by a funky synth or beat.
Approximately 8 years after she started releasing music, I found myself standing in New England’s largest general admission concert venue, Roadrunner. I was about to witness the final show of the North American leg for Bain’s sophomore album In the End It Always Does. As someone just a bit over five feet, I situated myself in the back of the room up on a lip so that I could peer over everyone's heads to see the stage.
QUINNIE BRINGS INTIMACY AND COMFORT TO ROADRUNNER
When I found out who was opening for this show, it made complete sense to me. Of course upcoming singer-songwriter quinnie would join the Japanese House on tour. quinnie has been rapidly making a space for herself in the music industry, especially after her song “touch tank” got some traction on TikTok last year. I listened to her debut album flounder back in February and my two favorite tracks became “itch” and, most recently, “man.”
She wore a puff-sleeved blue dress that I was captivated by, even being far enough away from her that I couldn’t make out her face. It seemed like she was sitting on a crate of some sort, and I loved that she ended up sitting cross-legged; it made her set feel that much more intimate. Her stage presence had such a familiar and comfortable element to it. The lighting placed quinnie and her band in an underwater-looking space— very fitting, considering the water imagery associated with her music (such as the album artwork and the title of flounder).
She was accompanied by her friends and frequent collaborators Jake Weinberg and Hayden Pollock who played guitar and also lent backup vocals. The three of them were undoubtedly talented with their respective instruments, but I for one, was a big fan of the tambourine that quinnie broke out for a couple of the songs. I had never seen a tambourine in concert before this, and now I don’t want to see one without it.
*SHE’S* SO PRETTY
quinnie’s set consisted of eleven songs, three of which were unreleased. The new songs were called “ripple,” “baja bird,” and “for you.” My favorite of the three was “for you,” because it was inspired by her parents, who were at the show that night to see her perform. Following this, quinnie acknowledged before they played the song “flounder” that it included a difficult guitar part. She asked the audience to wish them luck because when they wrote it they didn’t anticipate playing it every night on a tour. When they started, my eyes were drawn to her guitarist, Hayden, who absolutely killed his part. Cheers erupted when it was over.
On theme with the season, quinnie also popped in a Christmas song she released last year called “silver second,” which I thought was a nice touch. While I was expecting “touch tank” to be the last song she performed, it came a bit earlier. This song by far drew the largest response, with people singing the chorus, “He's so pretty when he goes down on me.” The rendition was a bit more pulled back, as opposed to the recorded version, which was gorgeous. Hayden and Jake’s vocals complement hers well, and it was prominent in this song.
quinnie was only on stage for around 45 minutes, but I could have listened to her for much longer. Her voice is unique and has a whimsical flare, which adds fluidity to her vocals. After seeing her in person, I have so much more of a longing to dive deeper into her work than I previously had. The woman next to me began the night not knowing who quinnie was and ended it telling me how much she enjoyed her and how she was excited to see her grow as an artist.
THE JAPANESE HOUSE TAKE THE STAGE FOR A SPECIAL NIGHT FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED
There was such an energy in the room that exploded when Amber Bain came out in her leather jacket. I, and the rest of the audience, were entranced.
The Japanese House began the set with “Sad to Breathe,” off of the new record. The song begins slower, with the lyrics “If you're going away, why'd you say something that made me believe, that you just might stay?” While I was initially wondering why the show was starting with such painfully raw lyrics accompanied by melancholy piano, I quickly remembered the beat that was going to kick in. Soon enough, dancing ensued throughout the crowd. As the first track in a setlist, I think it was an intentional choice because the song shows what Bain can and does do with her music. Her music is emotional; you can cry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance. From there, she went straight into “Touching Yourself,” keeping the tempo up.
Between songs, Bain made an announcement that emphasized the Boston tour stop’s significance. “This is a very special show for us 'cause it’s our last show of the tour, and it’s the biggest show we’ve ever played.” The crowd was incredibly responsive to this and knew that while they were here to enjoy themselves, they were going to make it special for Bain as well.
As my first time seeing the Japanese House, I was immediately endeared to Bain. She was fun to watch perform, but she was also so appreciative of the crowd. She said “thank you” after every song, and the crowd said “thank you,” too, in their own way. During the song “Baby goes again,” everyone broke out their phone flashlights, which Bain visibly loved, placing her hand over her heart and saying after, “That was so cool.”
JAPANESE HOUSES AND LIMINAL SPACES
At concerts, I appreciate when care is put into the set design and the stage itself says something about the artist or their work. It’s the foundation for a show. By the time the lights went down, there wasn’t much at all on the stage, which initially worried me. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised that the set was simply a white backdrop. This set mimicked the minimalistic album cover for In the End it Always Does and was thematically relevant in this period of Bain’s music. Her previously released music videos also implemented this white liminal space. On stage, this set allowed the lighting to go crazy, and it added to the overall energy of the room.
A TRIP THROUGH THE REST OF THE SETLIST
I was impressed by the setlist as most of my favorite songs were played. “Morning Pages” was the first song off of the new album I connected with and I was lucky enough to hear it live (although, sadly without a MUNA appearance). She included some of her classics, including “Follow My Girl,” “You Seemed so Happy,” and, naturally, “Saw You in a Dream.” She also dedicated the song “Boyhood,” “to all of the gays,” although personally, I think all of her songs are for the gays.
Towards the end of the show, Bain said “Let’s do a sad one… it’s what we’re all here for,” and I placed my guesses. What I wasn’t expecting was to hear: “Chewing Cotton Wool.” It’s a song that so beautifully depicts the loss of a person whether literal or metaphorical. I’m positive it rearranged some chemicals in my brain. I couldn’t have been the only one in the audience whose heart was being healed, too.
The encore consisted of two songs. Before the first, “One for sorrow, two for Joni Jones,” Bain expressed “This one goes out to my little dog,” and “I’ll try not to cry.” She sat down at the piano and the audience shushed for all four minutes and thirty seconds. “No one's ever gonna love me like this dog lying in my lap,” is such a painful lyric while also holding such a gratitude for this dog. As a dog owner myself, this song is so beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, which admittedly goes for most of the Japanese House’s discography.
Her last song was “Sunshine Baby.” Before it, she said, “This has truly been the best tour I’ve ever been on, it's my favorite tour ever.” Once again, she expressed her appreciation to the room— “Thank you for being a part of this.” After the song, she threw a handful of guitar picks into the crowd, and just as soon as it had come, the liminal space was gone, and the Japanese House was gone with it.
“AT LEAST I KEEP COMING BACK AROUND”
“This has been probably the most special show of my life,” Bain said to the crowd during the show, “I can’t really thank you enough.”
I couldn’t be more grateful that I got to see the last show of this tour and her biggest and most special to date. Every musician was impressive, from guitar to saxophone, keyboard to tambourine. The opener, quinnie, was a wonderful warm-up for the night, and the Japanese House delivered a beyond-satisfying show.
In the End it Always Does is an album of heartbreak as well as healing. Seeing it live is something I won’t be able to forget. There is a recurring idea throughout the album of things coming back around. Many lyrics are drawing this image on the album cover of a circle coming to a close or repeating itself. In “Baby goes again,” Bain sings, “I keep circling, can't stop a circle.” I can’t help but think that this show signified the close of the circle. But of course — as it always does — in the end, it’ll start again.