After one of the hottest and most humid days of the year, July 19, 2019, the poorly ventilated and possibly even hotter Empty Bottle may not have seemed like the ideal place to spend one’s time. This would have been especially true if one had, say, spent the entire day at a music festival, dancing in direct sunlight and expending energy. And to go to the Bottle in order to dance even more? What would it take to convince somebody to do this?
On Friday night, following the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival 2019, Japanese dance-punk outfit CHAI took the stage at the sweltering Empty Bottle, following sets by James Swanberg and Varsity. The speakers blasted a recording of “This is Chai” as the band came onto the stage. Each member wore matching outfits of vibrant pink baggy pants,stitched with reflective safety stripes at the bottom, and neon orange tank tops featuring a logo for the band.
As the band entered into the intro of “Choose Go!” keyboardist and lead singer Mana gave an enthusiastic wave and smile to the crowd while shouting “Hi everybody! We are CHAI!” The crowd shouted back in approval, matching Mana’s level of enthusiasm. After playing “Boys Seco Men,” which at times almost sounded like a classic rock track, and the super funky “Fashionista,” the band launched into a song to introduce themselves. Mana and her sister, the guitarist/singer Kana, waved around album covers from their latest record PUNK, as they sang a round of “Neo Kawaii.” Their singing was backed up by drummer Yuna and bassist Yuki. Eventually they all joined each other at the front of the stage, singing acapella, and ended in a pose together, properly introducing themselves to the crowd. Mana went on to ask the audience if they had any body complexes. She explained that she herself has many: “These are my eyes. They are very small. These are lovely eyes! This is Neo Cute! Neo Kawaii! My Legs? Very short! These are lovely legs! Neo Kawaii!” Mana then reassured the crowd, “Everybody’s wonderful! This is Neo Kawaii! Do you think so?” Then Mana led the crowd in an accelerating chant of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” ramping up into an energetic performance of “N.E.O.”
After a few more songs, including a heartwarming performance of “Family Member,” the band left the stage, and the crowd tried their hardest to bring them back with louder and louder applause. Then the recording of “This is Chai” that initially brought them onto the stage came back on, and the door to the green room opened, revealing the band now wearing blue hoodies adorned with colorful tassels, the hoods draped over their faces. After they lined up at the front of the stage, the members of the band began a coordinated dance to the track, the whole time their tassels flailing about, creating an organized scene of chaos. It was fun, it was silly, and the crowd ate it up. CHAI then closed out the show with the optimistic, synth-heavy “Future,” which is a bit slower than their other songs, and felt like the perfect cool down at the end of a very hot and very sweaty set. Mana singing out “This is just my future! This song about us forever! Are you ready? Never seen before! It’s just what I imagined!” felt like a heartfelt farewell, and the set ended on a very high and positive note. Hopefully everybody managed to drink enough water to offset all the sweating they did during the set.