Underneath Tottenham Court Road, beyond the obnoxious light show outside, lies one of the city’s newest and finest venues: Outernet. Freshly kitted out with the latest technology in stage lighting and live sound, everything about it is slick and pristine.
The most remarkable thing about Outernet is its incredible sound quality. The drums sound so crisp and, even right at the back, the audio quality felt like surround sound. It’s the sort of venue where your videos still look gorgeous no matter how bad your phone is, the sort of venue where you want to see an artist like The Japanese House.
Recently bursting from a cult favourite into an alt-darling, Amber Bain’s musical project is having a huge year with the release of her second album, In The End It Always Does, which features vocals and production helping hands from MUNA’s Katie Gavin and both Matty Healy and George Daniels from The 1975.
Like her entire back-catalogue, it’s a varied and fascinating release that ranges from all-out Indie bangers like ‘Sad To Breathe’ and ‘Sunshine Baby’ into sparse, lyrically dense ballads like the astounding ‘One For Sorrow, Two For Joni Jones’. The heavily sold-out London show was treated to the best of everything Amber has to offer, playing a sharp 16-song set that got the crowd both dancing and despairing.
The Japanese House put on a slick show. The huge LED screen behind the band does nothing but display block colours, washing the venue in hues to match the mood and silhouetting the band. Despite having a whole world of opportunity with the screen, I like that Amber kept things pared down, choosing to have her band close together in the centre of the stage and refusing to be intimidated or watered down by the scale.
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Wordlessly, she steps onto stage, nods to her band, and they begin with a soaring opening rendition of ‘Sad To Breathe’ that has the whole crowd bobbing along. And then, with barely enough time to finish our applause, she keeps the vibes high with her new album stand out, ‘Touching Yourself’.
This is where the sound instantly stood out. As Amber moved from the boisterous indie bangers into the softer cut ‘Morning Pages’, her vocals sound so perfectly mixed it’s like she’s singing directly into your ears. The whole night felt like having the world’s best quality headphones on as the live sound kept up with the highs and lows, never losing her beautiful vocal tone even when the whole band kicked in and never being too loud or blocky. Whoever is in charge of the sound at Outernet or whoever mixes Amber’s live sets deserves a raise. It felt immersive, making every track sound even better than on record – a comment you never get to say about live shows anymore.
The sound was so good that you could pick out and praise lyrics you might miss on Spotify. One major example of this came on ‘Follow My Girl’ where the central lyric of “I’ll follow my girl til I find myself a sense of direction” stood out like a beautiful sore thumb, perfectly representing Amber’s off-the-cuff yet richly sentimental lyricism.
Singles and older tracks received the biggest reaction naturally. ‘I Saw You In A Dream’ and ‘Boyhood’ prompted a whole crowd singalong, while ‘Chewing Cotton Wool’ and ‘Dionne’ wowed the audience to silence. More upbeat tracks like ‘Friends’ and ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’ had arms in the air and hips swaying, providing the perfect soundtrack for an easy Monday night gig.
But the encore is where Amber shined, showing the two brightest sides of her artistic coin and refusing to reject her softer side in favour of crowd-movers. Instead of two bangers, she walks back onto the stage, settles at her piano and dives into ‘One for Sorrow, Two For Joni Jones’. It is a song that manages to articulate sadness like no other, dedicated to her dog and providing the tenderest closer to her latest album.
During the ballad, you could hear a pin drop as everyone stood still and quiet, awed. The applause was rapturous, and cheers only got loud as we dove into the finest jewel on her new album, ‘Sunshine Baby’, a strong contender for song of the year. And after hearing it live through those incredible speakers, I think it has my vote.
With an artist like The Japanese House, who has a discography so varied and experimental and so often solemn, sometimes live shows can feel long or dragging with no time or space to get dancing. But at Outernet, Amber Bain avoided the curse, putting on a show that wowed, delighted and stunned.
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