Avid music listeners and concert goers strive to find music that gives us something novel to feel. We live for artists whose shock factor is evident in the awe-stricken faces of the crowd. Unsurprisingly, we also like to dance and enjoy ourselves. We're triple impressed when we get something as compelling, fun and thoughtfully executed as The Joy Formidable’s Mr. Small’s show on 4/11.
The night began with Manchester synth-rock outfit Everything Everything. The audience quickly understood why they were propositioned for this tour. They threw together the bombastic power-synths that we've come to know and love from this genre, but with some notable plot twists. Alex Robertshaw’s guitar parts moved swiftly, inviting the crowd to pay attention to his technical ability and his gritty-yet-ethereal solo style. Singer Jonathan Higgs performed as a man of many voices, with rapid-fire lyricism interwoven with thoughtful use of his impressive vocal range. Their music complimented The Joy Formidable but was not analogous enough to upstage their upcoming performance.
The night's main attraction took to the stage with a sea of synthesizer ambiance. The Joy Formidable put forth a torrent of energy from the show’s start that didn’t relent for the entire evening. Each member of the Welsh alt-rock trio knew exactly how to fill up the stage, comfortably using every inch of space available to them. To the left, bassist Rhydian Dafydd (@rhydiandafydd) went hard while intermittently controlling the ever-present, vital synths. Drummer Matt Thomas (@mattthomasdrums) sat at the front-right of the stage, contrasting a lot of dummers’ back-center setting, giving him unique opportunities to actively engage the audience. Heavy guitar riffs and an intense smile from the band’s lead singer Ritzy Bryan (@ritzyformidable) set the tone for the rest of the show from the second she walked onstage. Her strength as a vocalist was clear in recordings and videos of the music, but when she performed live, she demonstrated a comfort in her voice that stemmed from her fondness with her bandmates on stage.
I became more and more invested in the personalities of the musicians as the show progressed, but in particular those of Ritzy and Matt. Not to knock bassist Rhydian Dafydd, whose performance felt like the combined active effort of three or more musicians packed into one. Where Ritzy's presence was full and piercing (I felt some strong Evanescence vibes), Matt loosened the vibe with goofy stage antics and displaced gong smashes. He often pointed at the crowd with one of his sticks to a roar of applause. The whole band had a sense of humor on stage, which went over exceptionally well and kept the audience feeling like a part of the show.
As the band experienced technical difficulties (of which the audience was completely unaware, thanks to some smooth-operating techs behind the scenes), Ritzy took this opportunity to perform a song in the middle of the crowd. She half-jokingly dismissed the crowd's ongoing gong worship before she and Rhydian picked up acoustic guitars. While this isn’t an uncommon trick of the trade, it was nevertheless refreshing and intimate.
We had yet to hear some crowd favorites, so most everyone stuck around for the encore after the set ended. This three song encore, which shared music from opposite ends of their nearly 10-year discography, got the entire crowd singularly invested in moving with the band. That sort of lasting impact, alongside their spectacle of a performance, are reason enough to think they should come play stateside more often.