The Joy Formidable makes the case for a damn fine rock show at Turner Hall
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At the end of Tuesday night’s show at Turner Hall, charismatic singer and guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan praised FM 102/1 for playing “eclectic music,” clearly connecting this adjective to her own band, The Joy Formidable. Dubious compliment to the radio station notwithstanding, it was the final and least convincing bit of a set-long sales pitch by the Welsh trio, whose music may not be the 2013 equivalent of Journey, but is still about as straightforward as modern rock gets. TJF’s songs are all huge guitars, infectious beats, and easily digestible lyrics and singing, although the shiny wrapping doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of substance inside. In this band’s case, though, the packaging is almost as important as the gift.
From the moment Bryan walked onstage and flashed her mock-surprised grin, it was impossible to take her seriously as anything but a salesman—she’s got a bucket full of vintage Muse riffs and a case of bubblegum at the best price in town, and you can’t resist those eyes. Bryan plays the kind of bombastic, ultra-modern rock that tends to get old fast on record, but live, not so fast; when combined with the kind of visual enthusiasm this band displays onstage (plus a decent light and video barrage), the result is pure entertainment. Of course, indelible hooks like the ones in “Cholla” and “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade” go a long way by themselves, but in the early goings of the show, the wide-eyed glee by all three band members was painted on. If irrepressible showmanship is a shtick, these rock stars don’t wanna be real.
Except when they do. In explanation of “Tendons,” bassist Rhydian Dafydd acknowledged that he and Bryan had been a couple—but not any more—and that it didn’t matter because the music and the band were the most important thing. This breaking-down of the fourth wall was somewhat unexpected, but while it broke the escapist spell of the over-the-top spectacle, it also prevented the formula from getting tiresome. TJF knows how to pace a show perfectly to keep everyone’s interest, and the relatively tender interlude continued with Dafydd on acoustic guitar for “Silent Treatment.” By this point, even Bryan’s mask of ebullience was becoming translucent.
Then it was time for the big wallop: “Maw Maw Song” (from the new Wolf’s Law album) does quickly with one gargantuan riff and nonsensical vocal chorus what Sleigh Bells have tried to accomplish over the course of two albums. It’s a bloody brilliant song, and the band finished up the set with a couple of older anthems, “I Don’t Want To See You Like This” and “The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie.” Despite the lyrical melodrama, the generated smiles-per-minute factor was off the charts, as the interaction between bandmates oozed pure enjoyment. The encore concluded with drummer Matthew James Thomas bashing away at his gong while Dafydd abandoned his bass in a miasma of feedback and dove headfirst into the crowd. Bryan traversed the edge of the stage giddily, allowing fans to claw at her guitar strings. By this point, they’d sold themselves so thoroughly, even the stodgiest curmudgeon would’ve found it difficult not to genuinely like them. Whether it’s a super-clever act or an innocent expression of their essence, they put on a damn fine rock show.