It’s a safe bet to say that there was not a single place louder in New York City than Webster Hall last night. Within the paradoxically intimate cavern of a venue, guitars rushed out like dragons, spewing fire over a sold-out crowd, while drums crashed and hammered away, an invading army at the doors. The controlled chaos of sound was courtesy of two bands from across the pond: the U.K.’s loud-pop duo of Blood Red Shoes and Welsh power-rock savants the Joy Formidable. With only a minor break between the bands, the show was a sonic overload of epic proportions, by design and by sheer force of will.
Blood Red Shoes consists of guitarist Laura-Mary Carter and drummer/makeshift hypeman Steven Ansell. There’s no third member providing any fancy-pants accoutrements like, say, a bass guitar. It’s a minimalistic setup, but there’s nothing small about the sound. Sounding like a mix of Bloc Party, Led Zeppelin and even Nirvana at times, the Brighton duo rides momentum like a wave of poison: careful not to go overboard, but exhilaratingly close to it all the same.
Where some songs featured power chords strummed ad infinitum alongside hi-hat rides, others chose to go for a deeper combination of clean guitar licks and toms. It’s almost too much to take in from such focused performers; one almost wishes that they emoted more while playing, but then again, the music is the message here. For every sudden end to a song (Blood Red Shoes doesn’t do fadeouts, thank you very much), there were affectionate touches that gave the performance the sense of a band fooling around—a tambourine here, a broken snare there, a stolen drink later. This gave an added human touch to the very focused and infectious rock, and if last night’s set is any indication, these two may do well with investing in a lot of new snare drums.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the almost-extraterrestrial force of nature that is the Joy Formidable. After the set’s initial triple burst of “Cholla,” “Austere” and latest single “This Ladder Is Ours,” one thought crept into mind: This band would have been massive in the mid-90s. That’s on purpose, of course. Aside from the fact that the Joy Formidable don’t leave anything to chance, they crib from all manners of ’90s (and before) rock ‘n’ roll. No fancy genre names needed here; just a guitar, bass, drums and, for some reason, a gong (I wonder if they regretted that last bit, considering the obnoxious sect of fans chanting “GOOOOONG” after every song). Rolling through every hit from its two-album existence, the trio rose above and beyond the call of duty to give a hell of a show. Bassist Rhydian Dafydd preened for the crowd, even for the dude recording on an iPad mini (ugh), while drummer Matthew James Thomas hit his rolls and crashes with a wide smile.
The star of the show, however, has to be lead singer Ritzy Bryan. The best way to describe Bryan’s stage presence is to say that she is what Annie Clark (St. Vincent) would be if she were maniacally happy. Inspired by the days when rock stars where big, brash and outrageous, she’s all smiles and guitar riffs, with a voice that can hit the delicate notes of something like “Silent Treatment” as well as the snarls of the following song, set highlight “Maw Maw Song.” It’s a song like that one that fully encapsulates everything that is wonderful about the Joy Formidable: A powerful but simple bass line throughout allows Dafydd to work the crowd as well as the song’s backbone, Thomas doesn’t stop drumming for the duration, and Bryan shifts from snarl to soaring to stepping back to unleash the apocalypse via six strings. By the time fan favorite “Whirring” closed out its even-more-incredible-live coda, there was no higher peak for this trio to hit. They had scorched every inch of Webster Hall (and they would have done the same at the biggest arena in the world), leaving behind slightly deaf ears and smiles as wide as Bryan’s. Where do they go from here? Someone give them a spaceship; new frontiers need this much rock.