April 24, 2013

The Joy Formidable – A Glorious Sonic Boom

“The mouse that roared” is a phrase that comes to mind after experiencing The Joy Formidable in a live setting.  That a three-piece band comprising mostly just one guitar, bass, and drums can produce such a massive wall of sound is both a pleasant and bludgeoning surprise.  What’s more remarkable is that amid this glorious sonic boom, the band coaxes so much melody and produces infectious songs that have an obvious pop sensibility.

 Opening with Cholla, the first single off their latest album Wolf’s Law, the band launched an aural attack that rarely abated.  The few moments of respite came when bassist Rhydian Dafydd played keyboard intros or acoustic guitar (Silent Treatment).  Lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan produces much of the aforementioned roar, but it’s Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas who keep the songs from derailing into noise with their precise and surprising groove.  Smartly, in a live setting Dafydd’s bass is turned up in the mix to give the song parts clarity and structure, and not just a low-end thumping.  While Bryan provides a great focal point to the band and Dafydd seems to navigate the proceedings, it’s Thomas who brings the fun rock & roll madness.  Watching his enthusiasm, technique, and humor (!), one can’t help but think of John Bonham, Keith Moon, Tommy Lee, and Animal from the Muppet Show.


Having seen them once before on their last tour in a relatively small church that doubled as a rock venue (!!!), it was fascinating to see their adaptability and growth as a band in a real rock club setting.  Their songs and musical ability are a given.  However, they upped their game by incorporating Rock Show elements like video projections and an omnipresent wolf logo whose lights changed colors.   

Musicians and non-musicians alike have an obnoxious penchant to compare every band to some other band – “Oh, so-and-so sound just like (fill in the blank)…”  From the band’s perspective this can be complimentary, derogatory, or sometimes just plain baffling.  Compliment or not, it’s often unfair to the band because it ignores the amount of personal creativity and work that went into producing the music, and reduces it to a comparison.  I make this admission as a disclaimer because I’m about to do exactly what I just got done railing…The Joy Formidable are reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins at their best…and what Sonic Youth tried to sound like (but never could).  I say it as a supreme compliment.

9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Set List

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