words by: Gareth Moore
wonderful photos by: Katherine Gaines
The Joy Formidable walked on to the stage with supreme confidence, a feeling that ran unabated throughout the show. This reminded me of when bassist Rhydian told me how they treat every gig the same, whether it’s in an arena, a field, or a tiny club; they are determined to give it everything they’ve got. Once they were ready they launched into The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie, a tornado that opens their new album The Big Roar, and it resulted in many crowd members to stare in wonder. Singer/guitarist/sorceress Ritzy repeatedly gave a wide-eyed stare to the audience, a move that was simultaneously bewitching and unnerving.
Drummer Matt had a different tactic; he would gaze at the audience with his bright eyes, exposing his large teeth, resembling Bugs Bunny after discovering speed. The first song clearly demonstrated their air-tight rhythms as well as their captivating chemistry. For over seven minutes they hurled massive sounds upon the audience while goading each other on to play even harder.
The show continued in strong fashion. Austere, which seems to have grown into a fan favorite, had the crowd instantly singing along. The song eventually becomes devoured by fuzz, but it remains fun to the end. Cradle became even more euphoric in a live setting; yet another song that features a wonderful chant inside.
The star of the night was Whirring. On their first album (or first e.p. if you wish), Whirring was a terrific three minute rocker. Whirring has now morphed into a snarling creature; the sound is more expansive, the playing is more erratic, but all of it is a treat.
They brought out the madness of that song with greater force, leaving the crowd to scream wildly before the song had reached the half-way mark. With their increasingly muscular abilities I began to fantasize about them covering Husker Du’s New Day Rising; the very thought makes my heart race.
Yet there was an ineffable element that eluded them tonight. When they played the Black Cat last November it was one of the most riveting shows I had seen all year. By the end my clothes were soaked and I, along with my rowdy comrades, was left howling until I collapsed. This awe-inspiring feeling was missing tonight. I still admired their power, their confidence, their stage presence, their chemistry, yet that mysterious element that pushed them into excellence the last time was now absent.
Maybe it was because the last show featured a shorter set and no slow songs. They have yet to craft equally exciting songs at modest speeds. Perhaps it was just a fluke. There certainly were few others who felt that way; afterwards I overheard many people speak of them with unbridled ardour.
This time they put on a very good rock show, rather than mind-bendingly stellar show. Nevertheless, they remain a band worth seeing. Their poise is far from being false bravado; it stems from their unquenchable passion for their music and for playing live. Sweet sincerity is hard to come by, especially with proper rockers. Hopefully more people will catch them live and spread word about their manic magnetism.