Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Live Review: The Joy Formidable (BidoLito!)



The Kazimier

22nd January 2013

Four years ago, Welsh trio THE JOY FORMIDABLE signed to Warner Music Group imprint Atlantic Records ahead of their debut full length album The Big Roar. Having toured relentlessly for years, supporting the likes of The Temper Trap, Passion Pit and even The Manics, that old phrase ‘stadium band’ was thrown around as they became synonymous with big guitars and even bigger choruses and the British media clung on desperately to their latest hope for a British invasion. 

The backdrop is impressive, as projections of city skylines and a bright flashing fox silhouette moves gracefully through each song, reminding us that their ambitions still extend beyond the intimate settings of the Kazimier. Lead singer Ritzy Bryan almost skips on stage and launches straight into promising new track Cholla, as the band waste no time in pushing that glaringly unreliable Kazimier sound system to its limits. That familiar baseline introduces debut single and favourite Austere, as singer Ritzy bravely attempts to induce a sing-along to a crowd who look as if they wished they’d taken tinnitus a bit more seriously. The brilliance of Austere signifies their greatest strength, as the soft vocals contrast with the dense, hard accompaniment, finding subtlety and grace in even the loudest places. However, as Cradle quickly follows alongside Tendons, and it becomes clear that each song will be followed by an onslaught of instrumental breakdowns, which impressive though they are sonically, do threaten to overshadow Ritzy’s vocals, consequently dehumanising the songs and reducing them to a exercise in just playing fucking loudly. Wolf’s Law opener This Ladder Is Ours passes by unassumingly, before the stunning The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade provides the backdrop for that piercing, monster of a riff, showcasing exactly the kind of life affirming bombast that we need from The Joy Formidable. 

Tonight is very much a set of two halves. Their early material is an impressive demonstration in loud, shoe-gaze soundscape that you would not feel uncomfortable mentioning in the same breath as You Made Me Realise era-My Bloody Valentine. Songs like The Greatest Light, I Don’t Want To See You Like This, and Austere are effortless, as the vocals, band and audience all become part of the same loud, abrasive but most importantly, fun sound. Newer tracks like This Ladder is Ours and Little Blimp can at times feel like aggression for the sake of aggression, as if by turning up those vocals and honing in on those choruses, this wonderful energy turns into something quite vulgar, seeing them land on the wrong side of Paramore. I’m not suggesting that they are wrong to aim for a wider, more inclusive audience, but it seems a shame to see them abandon the aesthetic that made them one of the most exciting new bands in the country five years ago. 

All their short-comings though, and there are a few, can be forgiven as we come to their finale song Whirring. Make no mistake, this is an unbelievable, career defining song, up there with the best that the UK guitar music has produced in the last ten years. Those brash opening chords signal the start of a ten minute bombardment, balancing restraint with attack until those final moments when you are swept up in the sea of noise and left exhausted, bewildered, but absolutely ecstatic.

Mike Townsend

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