The Joy Formidable, Koko, London
Thursday 12 May 2011
A musical myth was put forward at the start of this year – someone, somewhere proclaimed that guitar rock was dead. Clearly, whoever revved up that particular bandwagon had never heard Welsh trio The Joy Formidable play live.
The gentle twinkling of a harp gets the packed Koko crowd poised for the pounding opener, "Whirring", which charges out of the starting gate on this, the band's first gig since returning from an exhaustive European tour. But there's no sign of wear or tear in the threesome, all of whom alternate between wide friendly grins and punkish snarls throughout the indie-dance-floor filling single, taken from the band's debut album The Big Roar.
After brief thank yous, frontwoman and guitarist Ritzy Bryan proceeds to vacillate between saccharine chanteuse and a Debbie Harry-esque punk princess in signature style for the grungy shoegazer "I Don't Want to See You Like This".
Multiple soundscape layers (which can sometimes make the record overbearing) create a wondrous cacophonic haze strung together with Bryan's stinging, butter-wouldn't-melt laments and underscored by multiple drum climaxes. Sporting a rag-doll look complete with ruffs to rival Austin Powers', Bryan leads this powerhouse of energy and passion through yet another thrumming anthem, "Cradle". Closely followed by oldy but goody "Llaw=Wall", it's bassist Rhydian Dafydd's time to shine as he delivers initially slow, enchanting vocals backed by a melancholic bassline that wouldn't be amiss on a Joy Division number.
The momentum doesn't lag for long. The scuzzy riffs of "Austere" have the mixed crowd of former emos, rockers and indie scenesters leaping across the venue's lowest floor, driven by thrashing drums and illuminated by manic strobe lighting.
Five hooded figures in red cloaks and masks take to the stage to provide yet another layer of vocal sound, but actually manage to provide a short comic interlude as they struggle to ring their heavy town-crier bells in unison, making their mysterious outfits look even more ridiculous. It's no reflection on the band, who remain as focused and consistent as in the rest of this raucous 90-minute set. With fresh, original shows like this, The Joy Formidable prove that guitar rock is not just alive – it's kicking, spitting, and biting too.
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