North Wales rock band the Joy Formidable brought their energetic set to Washington’s Black Cat Friday night. Opening for them were the Lonely Forest from Washington State and Nashville’s Mona. Both bands proved to be good choices as support, as they showed chutzpah in their respective sets. Coming to this gig, I didn’t know anything about the Lonely Forest. In their short 30-minute set, they rocked out on their guitars and jumped all over the stage. At one point, lead singer / guitarist Jon Van Deusen was completely taken in by the moment, he was on the floor and rolled all the way over backwards, losing his blue Seattle Seahawks cap in the process. After sheepishly retrieved the lost hat, he remarked, “I didn’t mean to do that…but it was fun!” Disarming. The band have just put out their debut record, Arrows, last week on Trans Records.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to make of Mona when I got a track of theirs in my inbox in April 2010, when no one in Britain knew who they were. When I heard they were from Nashville, my first thought was, oh no, do we really need another Kings of Leon? Turns out the band is originally from Ohio but moved to Nashville to find fame and fortune. Like Kings of Leon, they’re an American band who have been fully embraced by the British: they won the MTV (UK) Brand New for 2011 poll voted by fans and figured in many top 10 lists of bands to watch in 2011. So I was really looking forward to seeing Mona, to judge for myself what all the fuss was about.
Mona look like four toughs and they rock out hard on their instruments, but judging from their sweet smiles from onstage as they realized the audience was loving their sound, I can tell their hearts are in the right place, music-wise. The song that everyone at the Cat seemed to know, “Listen to Your Love,” went down wonderfully, as drums banged and guitars swirled in perfect harmony. “Teenager” was another highlight, with its heavy backbeat and shouted chorus (see video below). Their album comes out in mid-May in the UK. See these guys now in small clubs here in U.S. while you can, because I think it’s only a matter of time before they blow up big.
On this night in March, the Joy Formidable had “graduated” from their Black Cat Backstage appearance last November to the upstairs, larger main stage, accommodating 400 more people. By their appointed set time of 11, the place was packed. Good on Washington. They may only be three people, but these three people – Ritzy Bryan (lead vocals / guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (bass / vocals), and Matt Thomas (drums) – pack enough energy to probably set a jumbo jet into flight. Putting words down on paper (or in this case, on a music blog) to explain what you feel when you see them seems ridiculous because you have to see the band to fully understand how much power they bring when they play. The Joy Formidable live is punk with its raw, hard rocking, devil-may-care attitude but they are also evocative and atmospheric in the way only emo and alt-rock can be. Being up in front with my friends, I could feel the stage vibrating madly as the band thrashed about wildly before, during, and in the outros of many of their numbers. If you’d like to watch their performance at the Parish in Austin at this year’s South by Southwest, NPR has it here.
Reflecting on this show, I considered how great it was to see them on a Friday night, when you could get all your aggressions of the work out, headbanging to their raucousness. Their debut album, The Big Roar, just came out here in the States on March 15, but it was obvious by many audience members singing along and pumping their fists in the air that many had already memorized the songs. The band played songs from their 2010 EP A Balloon Called Moaning and tracks from the new album. When Dafydd started in on the trademark bass line of “Austere” and fans cheered, he asked with a smile, “guess you know this one?” That would be a yes. It’s a great song on recording, but wow, seeing them play it live is 1,000 times better. Before “I Don’t Want to See You Like This” (see video below), Bryan asked the audience who had ever visited Wales. Watching this woman chat with fans was heartwarming, but then she launched into the song and you had to pinch yourself. Is that really the same woman? She may be a cute blonde Welsh girl but can she can sure pack a punch in the lyrics and guitar department. The call and response between Bryan and Dafydd of the gentler number “9669″ was a brief respite from the Joy Formidable three-pronged attack showed their softer side.
“A Heavy Abacus” from the new album was to be their last number, but it was clear the 11-song set just wasn’t enough for some people. One fan begged the guitar tech to ask the band to come out for another encore. The tech, busily trying to unplug equipment, was incredulous: “you mean you want an encore to the encore???” I laughed to myself. Yes, the Joy Formidable have come to America with their Big Roar. I only hope more people here will go see them and witness their majesty for themselves.
The Joy Formidable Set List
The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie
The Magnifying Glass
The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
I Don’t Want to See You Like This
Greyhounds in the Slips
A Heavy Abacus
Mar 28 – Met / Providence
Mar 29 – Brighton Music Hall / Allston, MA
Mar 30 – Johnny Brenda’s / Philadelphia
Mar 31 – Terrace Club @ Princeton University / Princeton, NJ
Apr 01 – Abbey / Harrisburg
Apr 02 – Horseshoe Tavern / Toronto
Apr 04 – Basement / Columbus
Apr 05 – Lincoln Hall / Chicago
Apr 06 – 7th Street Entry / Minneapolis
Apr 08 – Larimer Lounge / Denver
Apr 09 – Kilby Court / Salt Lake City
Apr 11 – Mississippi Studios / Portland
Apr 12 – Crocodile / Seattle
Apr 14 – Bottom of the Hill / San Francisco
Apr 16 – Coachella / Indio, CA
Apr 19 – Rhythm Room / Phoenix
Apr 20 – Launchpad / Albuquerque
Apr 22 – Luminary Arts Center / St. Louis
Apr 23 – Riot Room / Kansas City
Apr 26 – Grog Shop / Cleveland
Apr 27 – Smiling Moose / Pittsburgh
Apr 29 – Webster Hall / New York City