The Joy Formidable elicits the “only three members?!” reaction, providing another example for the argument that more members are not needed for a big sound (another applicable band: Muse). And the Joy Formidable is nothing if not big. The Welsh group had a weird dichotomy going on onstage: Behind the trio, a Victorian-style sofa sat, as did lit-up birdcages and a massive six-foot gong. It was as maximalist as the Joy Formidable’s sound, which was about as “power” as power trio gets. The pointy attack of Ritzy Bryan’s guitar meshed perfectly with the thunder of the rhythm section of Matt Thomas and Rhydian Dafydd. Cable-tense basslines and nearly-metal drums underpinned the band.
The group’s sound sits in the crux of a few very loud genres—more aggressive than shoegaze, less self-important than metal, more technical than punk and way, way more pop than noise. What’s most exciting about the Joy Formidable is that it has songs, too—on the band’s blistering debut, the aptly titled The Big Roar, Ritzy and the gang launch the listener through a tale of personal vulnerability and transcendence with catchy-as-YES songs like “Austere” and “Cradle.”
And Bryan is a frontwoman to keep up. She was a platinum-blonde dervish at Webster Hall, whirling and revolving while strumming huge chords. She did the very cliche thing of tossing her guitar at the end of the set but did the very non-cliche thing of tossing it at a gong repeatedly. Her vocals may have been a little lost in the mix as her voice is not as massive as the rest of the Joy Formidable. Luckily, Dafydd’s harmonies strengthened the vocal part, as the decidedly male bassist provided the high harmony to Bryan’s melody. While Bryan’s vocals may be pretty, they are a satisfying counterpoint to the Texas-sized, festival-headlining “distortion + distortion = LOUD” sound that the Joy Formidable has cultivated. They provide complexity and subtlety to a sound that makes me feel kind of like I did when the Enterprise went into warp. Engage, and these Welshies were off.
Supported by hot up-and-comers the Lonely Forest, the Joy Formidable had the crowd engaged and enthralled in singing along and watching the stage antics (a highlight was the playful tension between Bryan and Dafydd). Of course the Joy Formidable provided, inflating a giant balloon of a kitty, complete with a moving jaw. Then of course the band proceeded to dog-pile on the thing, deflating it and laughing the whole time. This thing could get big…ger.