The Joy Formidable Sept. 11, 2011 Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa
I feel bad for youngsters whose first experience with live music is UK power trio The Joy Formidable. After watching these guys (and gal) do their thing on the Detroit stage last night, it's clear musical newbies will be demoralized watching all subsequent bands who just can't compare.
The Joy Formidable, delivered a supremely balanced mix that allowed songstress Ritzy Brian's crystalline voice to perch delicately atop blistering shoegaze guitar fuzz, drop-tuned bass and thunderous percussion. Though both drummer Matt Thomas and bassist Rhydian Dafydd excel at their respective instruments and shine on individual tunes, it's singer Brian who provides an ineffable magnetism which commands rapt attention.
Beginning with the opening number "A Heavy Abacus," Brian rapidly strummed individual strings to draw out the tension while looking into the crowd, her blue eyes maniacally wide. She mouthed the words "Are you ready?" before the song erupted with thunderous percussion and bass. Throughout the set she would glide back and forth across stage her shoulders dipping and swaying with movements both mechanically jerky and oddly graceful. It was as if she were attached to the track of a rotating carnival ride.
Her expressive face rapidly channelled multiple characters--some moments saw her smiling easily, others saw her staring through people in the audience like an automaton and still others saw her bent backwards unnaturally as if possessed by a demon, strumming furiously--eyes closed, her mouth agape. Though she brought an exceptionally theatrical aura to the performance, it didn't overshadow her obvious comfort with the guitar. And despite the raw intensity of the performance, the band played like a well-oiled machine, delivering ferociously intense music.
Their sound hearkens back to the '80s and the swirly guitar fuzz of indie pioneers like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. But last night the Joy Formidable demonstrated its ability to outdo such seminal acts as My Bloody Valentine (IMHO) who were known for their amorphous droning vocals, by delivering imminently hummable melodies. During the song "Cradle" Brian's vocals took on the cadence of a high school Cheer Squad--but thanks to the crunchy guitar work it was clearly a squad where everybody smoked.
The show highlight came at the end of the set during the song "Whirring," which included a crescendo of moaning guitar speakers, machine gun speed double bass and a tempo change that threatened to collapse the building. Here we saw drummer Thomas behind a blur of sticks and flailing hair as Brian fell to the floor and bashed her axe against the ground to generate feedback. Then in the blink of an eye, she blew the crowd a kiss and disappeared.
A band that plays well and leaves on a high note, who can compare these days?
The Crowd: Detroit Bar was packed to the rafters. I've seen this place less crowded on a Friday night. Lots of college-aged hipsters in flannels and fedoras. But disturbingly there was a quite a cavalcade of older gentlemen rocking bald and gray pates--some standing directly in front of the stage. Creepy.
The Set List:
A Heavy Abacus
Greyhounds in the Slips
The Greatest Light is In The Shade
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