The Japanese House makes sadness feel so good

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      One tell of how enthralled a crowd is by a musician is how full the room is before the supporting act starts. Even ahead of quinnie taking the stage to open the show, a sizeable crowd has packed into the sloped standing room at the front of the Vogue; by the time The Japanese House begins, the crowd is spilling into the walkways.

      But first up is quinnie, whose whisper-high voice is sweet and disarmingly youthful. When she swears on “Itch” (“I can’t fucking wait for the day that I finally get to kiss you”) or recalls oral sex on “Touch Tank” (“He’s so pretty when he goes down on me”), it’s almost incongruent. Wearing a face mic through her set and flanked by two instrument-switching musicians, quinnie’s set is delivered sitting down, creating an intimate experience that’s cemented by her earnest between-song patter when she speaks to the crowd. One particular highlight is when she leads her band in saying what they’re thankful for, as the show takes place on American Thanksgiving—and, based on crowd reaction, she discovers that Canadians do actually have Thanksgiving. The more you know!

      The Japanese House, conversely, is from the UK—no Thanksgiving there. But the audience sure is thankful to see her again. It’s Amber Bain’s first show in Vancouver since her 2019 spot at the Fortune Sound Club, and the Rain City crowd sold out her Hollywood Theatre booking so fast it got upgraded to the Vogue.

      Bain doesn’t talk much between songs, but she doesn’t need to. The setlist, largely drawn from this year’s dazzling sophomore record In the End it Always Does, moves through a huge range of emotional beats. Her tracks are dreamy and expansive, expressing wistful romanticism with deceptively simple lyrics and sweeping production. 

      The fuzzy sound baths of her recorded output become more delineated live: thrummy bass and the saddest sax you’ve ever heard shining separately, underwriting her contralto voice. Thanks to her stage moniker and androgynous voice, early in her career there was a lot of speculation as to Bain’s identity. She leans into the liminality with her casually cool queer style, all rakish blond hair and leather jacket. 

      “Boyhood,” the lead single off In the End…, elicits a huge singalong. As does “I Saw You In A Dream”, the song that marked the shift from Bain’s early multilayered production into the more simplified shape of her current oeuvre. She closes out the set with “Dionne”, which leans heavy into the Bon Iver comparisons thanks to featuring frontman Justin Vernon as a collaborator, finger-quoting the track as the “last song” in a nod to the inevitable encore.

      Techs set up a keyboard and Bain returns for a two-song conclusion. “One for Sorrow, Two of Joni Jones” is a tender ballad named for her dachshund, Joni Jones, stripped back to just keys, guitar, and sax, with angel light filtering through the smoke machines. 

      Final track “Sunshine Baby” lightens the mood, with the crowd roaring along as hard as a crew of depressed indie-boppers can to the co-production with The 1975’s Matt Healy. “Sitting in the back seat, driving with the sunshine, baby/Well, I’ve gone a little crazy/Surely, someone’s gonna save me now,” she concludes, throwing her guitar picks to the crowd, gently smacking the saxophonist’s butt, and walking off stage.

      Bain says she’ll be back soon—probably somewhere even bigger, so long as her nostalgic dreaming stays en vogue.