all words: Ross Bonaime, all photos: Farrah Skeiky
The Joy Formidable might be one of the most deceptively loud bands right now. I remembered them being loud the last time I saw them, but I had forgotten just how freaking loud The Joy Formidable could be. Of course the last time was in a ridiculously hot church with maybe a third of the crowd that the 9:30 Club had at their sold out show Sunday night, but as I write this almost 24 hours after The Joy Formidable took the stage, my ears are still ringing.
It’s only been five months since I last saw the trio, but since that time, they have released their second album Wolf’s Law, an album that not only continues the ear-blistering loudness of their debut, The Big Roar, but also features a softness and level of quiet unheard of with their first album. While bombastic sound and leaving me checking for blood in my ears can be jarring, with a band like The Joy Formidable, the quiet moments can be just as shocking.
Before The Joy Formidable took the stage, the crowd was presented with two openers of increasing loudness. You Won’t went on first, a two-piece comprised of John Arnoudse on lead vocals and guitar and Raky Sastri playing drums, harmonica and basically anything else. The two are from Massachusetts and praised the audience for their excitement to boost the spirits after the hell week that had just passed in Boston. Arnoudse has a sort of Buddy Holly-esque sound to his voice at times and thoroughly pumped up the audience far better than most bands do at the club.
After them was Blood Red Shoes, another duo composed of Steven Ansell and Laura-May Carter, brought the volume level up even more. While their bio on the 9:30 Club site said they were mostly inspired by bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana and The Pixies, their sound is much more derived from early-to-mid-2000s British rock such as Bloc Party or The Subways. Ansell on the drums was quite loud and Carter is impressive behind her guitar.
But after their nine songs came The Joy Formidable, ready to blow everyone else out of the water. Matthew James Thomas on drums and Rhydian Dafydd on bass came out first followed by Ritzy Bryan, dressed in a red dress and a Blood Red Shoes trucker hat. Behind them was a giant screen which would project different images according to songs, sometimes funny, sometimes disgusting, and a gigantic wolf head outline that illuminated in unison with the band.
They started out with “Cholla,” an upbeat track from Wolf’s Law, and basically went back and forth between their two albums on each new song. After the following song, “Austere,” The Joy Formidable hit the audience with two of their loudest and best songs, “This Ladder Is Ours,” and my personal favorite “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade,” a song that has even more power when heard live.
After a trio of songs that included “Little Blimp,” “Cradle” and a excerpt from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, Dafydd put on his acoustic guitar, Thomas quit beating his drums set like a maniac, and the group slowed things down with “Silent Treatment.” When a band is as consistently loud as The Joy Formidable is, a song like “Silent Treatment” is a beautifully stark contrast and a perfect middle of the set piece.
The quiet didn’t last song, as they came back with power for “Maw Maw Song,” a track that sounds like it deserves to be in the trailer for the biggest budget movie of the summer. After came “I Don’t Want to See You Like This,” which after allowed the Bryan and Thomas some time to have some great banter. Bryan joked that Thomas that on the next tour, he needed his own microphone, and he clearly does. If there’s one thing that disappointed me about seeing The Joy Formidable the second time was the lack of banter. These three have a hilarious chemistry and watching them joke around is almost as great as watching them play their instruments like they’re trying to drown them all possible notes.
Ending their set was the bombastically loud “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie,” a song they dragged out with a flurry of sound that seemed like it would be unparalleled. But they weren’t done yet.
Their encore presented both the soft and the loud sides of The Joy Formidable. Their next to last song ‘Wolf’s Law” brought them back to a more mellow version of the band, but ending the song with another extended and ear-blisteringly furious version of “Whirring” was the perfect way to end a set that easily caused ear damage.
Seeing The Joy Formidable a second time, they reminded me of Explosions In the Sky, a band that creates some incredibly music unlike I’ve ever heard, so powerful and strong that it’s fascinating. Like Explosions In the Sky, The Joy Formidable’s music fills me with a whole spectrum of emotions. It’s the kind of music that makes you want to climb a mountain, fall in love, weep uncontrollably, high five every person around you and more all at the same time. It’s a rare gift when a band can do that on their albums, let alone make those feeling even greater when performed live. And The Joy Formidable have that gift.
AND NOW, for some more photos of all three, very photogenic bands: