LIVE: The Joy Formidable @ Gorilla
WORDS BY CIERA LITTLEFORD
The Joy Formidable released their first EP A Balloon Called Moaning just over 10 years ago, and have only perfected their lively brand of indie rock since then. With four studio albums under their belt, the band has amassed a great deal of success, including supporting Foo Fighters in 2018.
The Welsh trio, hailing from Mold in Flintshire, ignite the intimate Gorilla with their infectious energy as a boisterous start to the weekend. Electronic beats and rapidly oscillating lights fill the room as the band – Ritzy Bryan on guitar and vocals, Rhydian Davies on bass and backing vocals, and Matthew Thomas on drums – take to the stage and launch into the intense Y Bluen Eira, the Welsh-language opener of their latest album AAARTH. Bryan’s fast-paced, monotone vocals interrupt a heavy guitar riff that’s enough to knock you off your feet. This spirited set-opener certainly sets the tone for the rest of the night, with none of the members losing this vivacity.
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The trio hark back to their early days with I Don’t Want to See You Like This, a gripping track from the band’s first album The Big Roar (2011). They have everyone’s rapt attention by this point, with Ritzy chanting ‘A bridge splits November’s sky, I’m in two halves inside, this is the past right here, I choose to leave it here’ in her sugary yet resolute vocals that still sound as fresh as ever. The single’s B-Side, Ostrich, is played a little later; the fuzzy guitar riff echoes around the room, the type of signature Joy Formidable riff that was a motif for the entire debut album. The crashing cymbals and and a thunderous, rolling drumbeat gel perfectly with the constantly moving crowd, who continue to do so as the band launch straight into yet another non-album track, Passerby, a bonus track from the trio’s third album Hitch (2016), which admittedly had its issues, evidenced by its reluctance to feature much on the setlist . The band’s dynamism and the reception of their fans, however, is proof that even a knock such as that isn’t enough to faze them.
The night soon undergoes a shift in tone as Davies swaps out his bass for an acoustic guitar. The usually raucous A Heavy Abacus is substituted for a more subdued acoustic version; it’s charming, but seems like an odd choice for a song that has such potential to be a real crowd pleaser at its maximum volume. It could be justified as a segue into another acoustic track; this time it’s Underneath the Petal from Hitch. Despite the track’s softer tendencies, The Joy Formidable’s intensity refuses to wane. They’re always impeccably in sync with each other and with the crowd; between songs they banter with each other and audience members rendering Gorilla even more intimate than it already was.
The encore is a delightful mix of the band’s back catalogue, including The Leopard and the Lung, Y Batteg Ateb, and Whirring. It’s the latter track that gets fans most excited; a lot of people have presumably been waiting for this all night. The joyous guitar and tinkling of the keyboard, almost filled with a kind of childlike wonder, reeks of pure nostalgia. It’s amped up by Bryan’s crisp vocals, belting out ‘All these things about me, you never can tell, you make me sleep so badly invisible friend!’ as many sing-alongs.
It’s a fun-filled set, but the unexpected absence of early track Austere is felt, and the darker, heavier Buoy would have been a welcome addition to an otherwise mostly upbeat second half. But if there’s one thing for certain, The Joy Formidable are still as tight as ever, and they know how to put on a good gig.