Arts, Features

REVIEW: The Japanese House captivates audience at The Sinclair

The Japanese House performs at the Sinclair in Cambridge on Sunday. PHOTO BY ALEXANDER NOVAKOVIC/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As the lights dimmed on the stage, the audience hushed to almost silence, then suddenly erupted into cheering that drowned out the artist’s greetings.

This was the scene at The Japanese House’s sold-out Sunday night concert at the Sinclair in Cambridge, where hundreds of fans packed into the small concert venue-slash-restaurant’s main standing area and overflowed onto the balcony for the indie act’s return to Boston.

The waves of transfixed silence and fervent cheering were the norms for the night, as The Japanese House, aka 21-year-old Amber Bain, and her opening act, newcomer Blaise Moore, kept the crowd completely in their mellow, synth-influenced grasps.

At 8:30 p.m., the waifish, delicate Moore took the stage, illuminated by red lights that complemented her sultry vocals. The 21-year-old Toronto native wooed the audience with her alt-pop R&B-influenced sound, her singer-songwriter chops highlighted by the heavy beats that reverberated throughout the small venue. Her vocals were reminiscent of other female indie R&B powerhouses, most notably SZA and Jorja Smith.

Her passion especially shone through on her latest hit “FRIENDS,” off her debut EP, “LAURENCE.” Her voice through the performance was almost cynical, yet still powerful, and the smooth beats were dance-worthy despite the song being so emotional.

After her short half-hour set was over, the crowd was both starstruck and hungry for more, cheering as she thanked them for listening and The Japanese House for having her on tour with them.

As they returned to their drinks and waited anxiously for the main act, the buzz in the crowd grew louder and louder. When The Japanese House finally took the stage at 9:30 p.m., it erupted into a full-on roar.

Bain was a striking picture on stage, her slim pixie stature illuminated by a wash of blue and purple lights behind her. Dressed simply in a striped shirt and light blue mom jeans, she stood out starkly against the dark clothing of her band and the blackness of the stage background.

With a beautiful white guitar slung across her front, she jumped right into the music without a word, opening with her hit song, “Cool Blue,” off her 2015 EP, “Clean.” The crowd sung along with her dreamy, synth-filtered vocals as she swayed above them and her guitar reverberated through the air.

Bain’s vocals and commitment to mastery of her instrument are what make her stand out. Dreamy, cool, heartfelt, upbeat and somber all at once, her voice and music were totally captivating and made the venue seem both so much more intimate and spacious at the same time.

In between songs, she joked with the audience in a charming British accent and recounted the story of the first time she played a show in Boston.

“You know, this is actually the second time I’ve played in Boston or, Cambridge,” she said, correcting herself with a laugh mid-sentence. “I almost forgot, because I had been so jet-lagged during the other show I really couldn’t remember.”

This concert, though, surely will not be forgotten anytime soon. Bain’s biggest strength is her ability to completely hold an audience until the end of a song, which shone especially in her performance of “Sugar Pill.”

She played guitar masterfully while her backing guitarist moved to the keyboard for this semi-ballad number. Her soft voice moved effortlessly along with the music, and the audience simply stood and swayed, entranced by the honesty and delicate beauty of her performance. True to her style, the song featured plucky guitar riffs and heavy reverb interspersed throughout.

Her biggest moment came near the end of the show, when she played two of her most popular songs, “Face Like Thunder,” from the 2016 EP, “Swim Against the Tide,” and “Still,” off of the 2015 EP “Pools to Bathe In.” These two performances were her entire sound encapsulated into less than 10 minutes: spacious sound and catchy, pop-inspired guitar fused with dreamy synth vocals and big bass reverbs to top it all off.

“Still,” a quieter yet deeply powerful song, was the most moving number of the night. Lyrics like “Baby it’s too hard, and too scarred, for this to work again / But you know I still wake up with you every morning like we’re dead,” drove home hard, and her emotional, heart-on-sleeve delivery bared her soul in the best way possible. The gentle sound behind such deep lyrics was the perfect complement, and it was by far the dreamiest of all her songs.

All the while, the crowd snapped back-and-forth between frantic cheering in between numbers to a trance-like state during the performances. The cheering was almost reverent as Bain exited the stage, like the audience was thanking her for the performance in the same way she thanked them for their presence.

At the end of the night, one thing was certain: while she may have already been here a couple of times, Boston isn’t done with The Japanese House just yet. After all, they do say the third time’s the charm, don’t they?

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