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Live Review: The Joy Formidable with Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 13th April 2016

 
By on Friday, 15th April 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Joy Formidable‘s Ritzy Bryan has a soft spot for the Nation’s Capital, as she was a resident of our fine city for several years before the band truly got going. It’s been nice validation to have the chance to see the Welsh trio in increasingly larger venues. While they played the inaugural Landmark Music Festival last September in West Potomac Park, their last proper show in the DC was a week shy of 3 years ago to their show here Wednesday night. In tandem with starting their own label C’Mon Let’s Drift, they released their third album ‘Hitch’ in mid-March.

Reviews for the new record have teetered between generally positive to mixed, with some pundits and fans saying the trio have gone too far from their tried and tested formula of assertive, in your face and at times noodley rock. As is oft repeated by the devoted fans of all artists, evolution as time goes on is not only inevitable and healthy, and I agree with this sentiment when it comes to ‘Hitch’. While it may appear that the band borrow liberally from ’90s greats on some tracks, the overall effort has, without a doubt, the stamp of The Joy Formidable.

On this 3-week tour of America to support ‘Hitch’, their support act has been Manchester’s Everything Everything, who interestingly find themselves in somewhat a similar point to their career as their current tourmates. Having released their third album ‘Get to Heaven’ in the UK in June 2015, which was followed by America finally having the record this past February and a showcasing turn at SXSW 2016 (including their FLOODfest appearance and my interview with lead guitarist Alex Robertshaw), they’ve already cemented their place in popular music history in Britain.

Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, April 2016 4

Most of the Joy Formidable fans I talked to before the show weren’t familiar with their work, so the tour serves not only as Everything Everything’s first proper and extended sojourn for live dates across our country. It’s also as a proper introduction to the band beyond the basic New York City and Los Angeles live markets. I myself have seen them on a number of occasions and except for at SXSW 2016 last month, all of those appearances have not been usual club shows, so I was pleased they were finally coming to DC.

If you were listen to The Joy Formidable and Everything Everything side by side on a streaming service, it doesn’t seem like a match made in heaven. Their musical styles are quite different, but what ties them together nicely are their individualism and independence when it comes to their songcraft. The funkiness of Everything Everything’s music – from their early breakout single ‘MY KZ UR BF’ to ‘Distant Past’ off ‘Get to Heaven’ – is miles away from The Joy Formidable’s harder alt-rock style.

Jonathan Higgs of Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, April 2016 2

Indeed, the fact that the band from Manchester are so, so very different from anything else you’ve ever heard, that in itself makes the band a unique proposition. ‘Regret’, with shakes of Michael Spearman’s tambourine with the militant repetition of all in the band shouting the word “regret!”, along with lead singer Jonathan Higgs’ sardonic to comforting lyrical delivery, proved irresistibly catchy to the audience. ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Kemosabe’ from 2013’s ‘Arc’ were additional rhythmic standouts. ‘Distant Past’, with its futuristic keyboard chords and the bounce in its pulse, ended their set on a memorable note.

Alex Robertshaw of Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, April 2016 1

I had two big questions: how are The Joy Formidable going to perform songs from ‘Hitch’, and will the evolution of their sound also carry over to the live spectacle? The 9:30 Club stage is plenty big for three bandmates and not all that much gear. Flashing lighting rigs and a fog machine that seemed overzealous on the job filled the large space while bassist / keyboardist Rhydian Dafydd and lead singer and guitarist Bryan were mostly staying put at their pedalboards.

Joy Formidable at 9:30 Club, April 2016 1

A constant since past tours is the clowning around between the two of them (such as faux whinging about the problem with the other’s axe, and Bryan’s admission she’s a klutz with guitars) and with drummer Matt Thomas. Thomas normally is not given a microphone and with some exasperation, Bryan explains the one time he was given a mike recently, he asked the audience if they enjoyed Jurassic Park. Laughter. A conversation about enjoying the first Jurassic Park ensued. More laughter. It’s more like going to see your friends play, not just seeing Dave Grohl’s pick for best new band out there in 2011.

The trio came out swinging with early hit ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’, proving without a doubt that a Joy Formidable show will be loud and full of pomp. With a famous EP (‘A Balloon Called Moaning’) and three albums, tough choices had to be made with the set list, and if you were expecting more from the past, you were probably going to be disappointed. I was surprised by the length, too, as they clearly have a lot of past gems – and future ones – that could have been tacked on to their set.

Joy Formidable at 9:30 Club, April 2016 2

Predictably, it was ‘Radio of Lips’ and early single ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’ that were the biggest crowd pleasers taken from ‘Hitch’, the latter sporting a sinister monster guitar riff not easily forgotten. ‘Cradle’ and ‘Little Blimp’ provided satisfyingly swirling walls of sound, while a gentler acoustic treatment – done within the crowd, no less – was given to ‘The Brook’, Dafydd and Bryan clearly enjoying being one with the fans. For anyone thinking based on the shift in direction seen on ‘Hitch’ meant that the Joy Formidable had changed forever, a show like this is all the proof you need to know that couldn’t be further from the truth.

After the cut: the set lists. Continue reading Live Review: The Joy Formidable with Everything Everything at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 13th April 2016

 

Album Review: The Joy Formidable – Hitch

 
By on Friday, 1st April 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

It seems somehow fitting that I’m taking a quick break from TGTF’s ongoing coverage of SXSW 2016 to review the new album from Welsh alt-rockers The Joy Formidable. Our own editor Mary first introduced me to The Joy Formidable just over two years ago on the opening night of SXSW 2014, when the band played at Austin’s Clive Bar on what happened to be a rather wet and dreary evening. The rain could easily have put a damper on The Joy Formidable’s late set that night, but the venue was packed with eager fans, and Mary and I both felt fortunate to catch the band in what would be one of their last live gigs before they disappeared into the studio for a long stretch of writing and recording.

The product of that time away is The Joy Formidable’s new LP ‘Hitch’, which lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan says is “one of the most driving records we’ve made but also the saddest”. Recorded and produced by the band themselves in their North Wales studio The Red Brick, the album was truly a labour of love for the Welsh trio, both emotionally and musically. They’ve taken a more streamlined musical approach with ‘Hitch’, but the emotional quality of the songs is undeniably cathartic, and the band themselves have described the album as “a good purge”.

Opening track ‘A Second in White’ starts things off with Bryan’s low-register voice murmuring over an ominous ostinato of guitars and drums, but the pace picks up almost immediately with the following track ‘Radio of Lips’. The sharp, concise lyrical lines in the verses lead to an irresistably anthemic chorus, and the drawn out anticipation in the bridge section is likely to make this one a live favourite on The Joy Formidable’s upcoming UK tour in May.

The album’s provocative first single ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’, whose video edit is featured in the tour date post referenced above, sounds both sullen and sultry, and like ‘Radio of Lips’ before it, stretches over 6 minutes long in the full album recording. Indeed many of the tracks on ‘Hitch’ are quite lengthy, as if the band’s major hang-up might have been in somehow finding closure to the whatever emotional drama surrounded the making of the album.

The first half of the album starts to drag a bit after the opening three tracks, wandering through more introspective tracks ‘Liana’ and ‘The Brook’ before regaining some momentum with the frenetic drum beat of ‘It’s Started’. Midway through the album, relatively shorter track ‘The Gift’ switches Bryan’s lead vocals for those of Dafydd, and perhaps it’s the contrast that makes Bryan’s vocals seem that much more on the album’s second half, especially as she sings the poignant line, “maybe we’re not alone after all” in ‘Fog (Black Windows)’.

‘Underneath the Petal’ is a rather gentler but still darkly dramatic affair that builds slowly in dynamic intensity and once again highlights the emotional quality of Bryan’s singing voice. ‘Blowing Fire’, by contrast, seethes intensity and spits resentment from beginning to end before the album closes with another soft, acoustic-tinged number. ‘Don’t Let Me Know’, which also happens to be the album’s longest track, spins slowly and elegantly into a climactic finale, or perhaps more accurately, into a heartfelt and bittersweet farewell.

While the songs themselves are a bit all over the shop, ‘Hitch’ makes up in variety and emotional power what it lacks in cohesion. Whatever emotional cleansing The Joy Formidable might have required was undoubtedly achieved in the album’s intense musical arrangements and lengthy instrumental interludes, but overall, the album feels dampened by the pressure of its own heavy emotional content.  Bringing the songs out of the studio and into live performance might be the impetus the band needs to complete its purge, once and for all.

7/10

The Joy Formidable’s third album ‘Hitch’ is out now on the band’s own label C’Mon Let’s Drift. TGTF’s full archive of coverage on The Joy Formidable is back this way.

 

The Joy Formidable / May 2016 UK Tour

 
By on Friday, 4th March 2016 at 8:00 am
 

Following on from their short tour in February, hard-rocking Welsh band and TGTF friends The Joy Formidable have announced an appropriately formidable headline tour for May 2016. The trio’s tour includes stops at Focus Wales in Wrexham on the 12th of May and at the Great Escape in Brighton on the 19th. Tickets to the gig dates on this upcoming journey around the UK go on sale today, Friday, the 4th of March, at 10 AM. The band’s new album ‘Hitch’ will be out on the 25th of March on the band’s own label C’Mon Let’s Drift. For all of TGTF’s past coverage of The Joy Formidable, head here.

Saturday 7th May 2016 – Newcastle Think Tank
Monday 9th May 2016 – Edinburgh Liquid Room
Tuesday 10th May 2016 – Sheffield Plug
Thursday 12th May 2016 – Wrexham Focus Wales (Central Station)
Friday 13th May 2016 – Colchester Arts Centre
Saturday 14th May 2016 – Manchester Academy 2
Monday 16th May 2016 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Tuesday 17th May 2016 – Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Wednesday 18th May 2016 – Norwich Open
Thursday 19th May 2016 – London Oval Space
Saturday 21st May 2016 – Brighton Great Escape (C2 Radio X Show)
Sunday 22nd May 2016 – Oxford Academy
Monday 23rd May 2016 – High Wycombe Bucks University

 

The Joy Formidable / February 2016 UK Tour

 
By on Wednesday, 3rd February 2016 at 9:00 am
 

Welsh rock trio The Joy Formidable have just unveiled details of their new album ‘Hitch’, along with a list of UK tour dates for next month.  ‘Hitch’ was recorded in the band’s North Wales studio and will be released on the 25th of March via their own label C’Mon Let’s Drift.  You can watch the provocatively graphic (read: NSFW) video for the album’s first single ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’ just below the tour date listing.

Laura J Martin will play support for the following February UK dates.  Tickets are on sale now.  Our extensive past coverage of The Joy Formidable is right back here.

Sunday 21st February 2016 – Manchester Deaf Institute
Monday 22nd February 2016 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
Tuesday 23rd February 2016 – London Oslo
Wednesday 24th February 2016 – Birmingham Rainbow Courtyard
Thursday 25th February 2016 – Glasgow King Tut’s

 

SXSW 2014: Mary’s thoughts before the madness began and the Joy Formidable at Rocket Fuel Launch Pad party at Clive Bar – 10th March 2013

 
By on Tuesday, 18th March 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

This being my third SXSW, you have thought I’d have learned to appropriately pace myself. I did admirably well and it helped immensely that our Carrie was with me this time so I wasn’t being a complete mental case running from showcase to showcase. But writing this now a week after all the madness began, my body is still showing signs of wear and tear from everything that went on in Austin. I am happy to report that no major injuries were sustained, though one night Carrie’s skirted rear almost got impaled by a branch while we were walking around in the dark, and one morning walking into town, I almost lost a foot in an open manhole… Yes, we had a trying week. But we survived!

It was Carrie’s first SXSW so I helped her get her bearings around 6th Street and pointed out some major landmarks for navigation purposes. (TGTF pro tip #1: for your first SXSW, arrive at least a day early so you can get the lay of the land and can do some planning.) Then we settled in to a pint at B.D. Riley’s (mine was a Crispin’s, Carrie’s was a Smithwick’s), where we caught our first act of the festival, Josh Luckenbach, who was playing as part of an open mike night at the Irish pub I love so much. Probably most notable from his set was his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Badlands’, which at first I didn’t recognise as a Boss cover. It was an interesting choice, as it’s not really what comes to mind when you think of Bruce, but it was Luckenbach by himself, so he needed a track that worked on that level. Fancying himself like a young Bob Dylan with a free hand harmonica, he was a good act to ease into all that Austin had to offer us.

Monday has now become the traditional night that the Northern Irish get together at the British Music Embassy, and I invite you to come this way to read Carrie’s thoughts of the night. It’s always a wonderful thing for me to be able to say my hellos and how dos to my mates from the Emerald Isle and to be surrounded by so many lovely people. We watched the delightfully poppy Wonder Villains (spying a Dublin Vicar Street sticker on the front of lead singer Eimear Coyle’s bass) and the powerfully energetic Rams’ Pocket Radio tear it up on Latitude 30’s stage. Afterwards, Carrie chatted with both acts (here and here, respectively) and it was a lucky thing too that we were rained on when were outside doing the interviews, as our next stop was down on Davis Street, and it was during that walk that the water fell from the sky and we were two very soggy TGTFers by the time we reached Clive Bar. (TGTF pro tip #2: bring a rain hat, poncho or small umbrella with you. Preferably all three. I am so thankful I had a rain hat, as we had the misfortune of being stood under not one, but two awnings at Clive Bar once we arrived.)

Rocket Fuel Inc., “the only programmatic media buying platform” out of Redwood City, California, were hosting a special interactive party there dubbed the Rocket Fuel Launch Pad. (How very Jetsons.) After you’ve been a music writer for a while, you develop good connections, which came in handy so I could get on the guest list for the party. We were let into the rammed venue just in time for Carrie to have her first experience with the Joy Formidable, so I felt proud to have facilitated that. The Welsh rockers have been with me nearly as long as I’ve been writing, and I’ve been so proud of how far my friends have come since I saw them play to about 30 people at Black Cat Backstage in November 2010. Normally I’d try and make my way to the front to take photos, but this night, I decided it was better to hang back and being the shorty I am, we were stood up on a wood staircase so I could just make out Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd’s heads and the flying hair of drummer Matt Thomas.

What was more important to me was hearing them. Since releasing ‘The Big Roar’ in 2011 and ‘Wolf’s Law’ last year, the band’s star has done nothing but continue to rise, especially here in America. They came out swinging straight out the gate with ‘This Ladder is Ours’ and it’s something so amazing when you’re surrounded by fans of the same band, you’re all jumping up and down in excitement, and you’re all shouting the lyrics a song back at them. At the top of your lungs, I might add. (I was already getting the “you’re already hoarse!” comments by the time we rolled back into downtown on Tuesday morning. Oops.) That’s exactly what happened. This gig was probably the best thing that ever happened to the guy behind me. He kept going “oh my god!” and “this is my favourite song!” and that’s exactly what as a music editor you want to hear at a gig.

Being at this Joy Formidable show was also very special in that Ritzy announced it would be their last gig for quite some time, as they have plans to disappear to the studio to work out their third album. I got my riot grrl kicks from headbanging to ‘Cholla’, ‘Cradle’ and ‘Austere’, as you do. But I also wholly appreciated the beauty of ‘The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie’ (“Can you see that I’m good?”) and my all-time Joy Formidable favourite ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ “the greatest light, the greatest shade / it means that I can be happy for you, happy for you, happy for you”); I had no way of knowing that they both would be prescient to what was up ahead in the days to come.

 

Top Gigs of 2013: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Tuesday, 17th December 2013 at 11:00 am
 

2013 did not disappoint to deliver another year of brilliant live performances for me here in America and in Britain. Which shows will I remember the most from 20-13? (I wrote it out that way, because I was told this last time in England that me pronouncing it that way makes it obvious I am an American. Do you reckon that’s true? I’m trying, folks, I’m trying, but as the majority of you know, I am American, born and bred!) Read on about the most exciting shows I’ve been to this year…

5. the 1975 at U Street Music Hall (20th June 2013) – I’ve been lucky enough to have seen the 1975 5 times this year, with 3 of those times in DC, and unusually, the one show that sticks out in my mind among all others is not their largest show in DC, nor their smallest, but the one in between.

The energy at U Street Music Hall, coupled with the screaming fans down the front, made it clear I was witnessing history. So what if “she’s got a boyfriend anyway”? We’ll be singing and bopping to the music like we don’t care, that’s what.

The 1975 Washington June 2013 1

4. Savoir Adore at DC9 (25th September 2013) – DC9 doesn’t have a great reputation for sound quality, but on this Wednesday night, all the stars aligned for a near perfect sounding show, highlighting the shiny, glittery ambiance that Savoir Adore brings to their shows.

Deidre Muro and Paul Hammer now have an impressive back catalogue to draw from, and this was just a wonderful gig to showcase their music, with punters having such a good time dancing to their tunes.

Savoir Adore Washington 2013 live 2

3. the Crookes at Sheffield Shakespeare (19th May 2013) – as the American editor of a UK-centric music site, all too often I’m left banging my head against a table or a wall when I come to the disappointing conclusion that I can’t attend a show I really want to be at. (Maybe one day when I have my own private plane…)

While the travel to Sheff was a pain in the arse – I must have taken the slowest Sunday train known to man from St. Pancras to the North East – and I’d not slept the night before, as John and I had been in Brighton all weekend to cover the Great Escape, it was all worth it for this chance to see one of my favourite bands in a teeny tiny gig in their hometown. As soon as I’d arrived at the place, I knew I’d made the right decision, having been greeted with the singing talents of a good friend wafting ‘Dance in Colour’ out of the top windows of the pub. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Read my review for further musings.

2. OMD at Gateshead Sage (13th May 2013) – where do you go to see a favourite Northern band when possible? The North, of course. Martin had alerted me ahead of time that the Sage was quite a posh place and to expect people to be dressed fancier than I was used to seeing in clubs.

Hate people talking on their phones at gigs? The Sage has high-tech mobile phone blocking technology. The beautifully lit, swiveling panels suspended in the air above us and the band were awe-inspiring, as were Andy McCluskey’s seemingly inexhaustible singing and dad-dancing talents. ‘Electricity’? Why, yes.

OMD Gateshead live 1

1. Little Comets at the Hamilton (13th August 2013) – for the longest time, it seemed all my music friends had seen this Geordie band live and I hadn’t; further, so many of the bands I was personally friends with either had toured with them or had become friends with them after being impressed by their live show at a festival.

Well, it took 4 long years but I finally got to see Little Comets live, and I’m pleased to report they were well worth the wait. The dinner theatre-style setup of the Hamilton means at most shows, punters will remain sat at their tables, chewing on their tapas. Not this night: with fans shrieking and letting out catcalls of delight, stomping to their favourite songs and singing along word for word to tracks like ‘Isles’, it was definitely a moment in time I will never forget. More of this, please!

Little Comets Washington 2

Honourable mentions:

Franz Ferdinand at Strathmore Hall (17th October 2013) – I was under the distinct impression I would never see Franz Ferdinand live, unless maybe I was lucky enough to catch them at a festival. It had been 7 years since they’d played in DC. Great show punctuated with Alex Kapranos’ Olympic-effort leaps and bounds, and I have to say, you haven’t lived until you’ve been sat next to Nick McCarthy’s extended family at a show. Just saying.

Kodaline at Jammin’ Java (13th October 2013) – it must be nice to be on your first headline tour of North America and arrive in a city to find out you’ve sold out your gig there. I’ve seen quite a few post-gig fan queues in my day, but this one for Kodaline stretched to about forever. We hung around for over an hour and a half, watching the band say hello, sign autographs and take photos with each and every fan that wanted to meet them. If only all bands were as considerate.

the Static Jacks at DC9 (2nd October 2013) – this guys just get better and better every time I see them. They managed to turn a humdrum Wednesday night in Washington into a disco, with appreciative fans cutting a rug to their music. Doesn’t really get any better than that.

Villagers at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel (13th June 2013) – this was the first time I’d see the Villagers full band setup, having only seen Conor J. O’Brien solo in 2010. If you had reservations that ‘Becoming a Jackal’ was a whimper-y kind of record and you weren’t sold on their new direction in ‘{Awayland}’, go see them live now and watch them rock out.

the Joy Formidable at 9:30 Club (21st April 2013) – I prefer to see this Welsh band in smaller, dingier confines because I think their music suits that kind of environment better, but still, this was an amazing show. Hard to believe the first time I saw them was in November 2010, barely filling half of Black Cat Backstage’s capacity of 200.

After the cut: the full list of all the gigs, in reverse chronological order, that I’ve been to in 2013. The runner-up gigs are also marked.

Continue reading Top Gigs of 2013: Editor’s Picks

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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