The Joy Formidable at the Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto – Gig review and setlist

April 11, 2011


The Joy Formidable at the Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, 2 April 2011 - photo by Renee Saviour, Music Vice

The Gig: The Joy Formidable with The Lonely Forest
Where: The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When: 2 April 2011
In One Word: Unabated

The Joy Formidable are an ambitious band.  Their name and the title of their latest release, The Big Roar, more than make it clear that they wish to be known as a sonic force.  Hailing from Wales, the trio consists of singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas.  I checked them out at a recent gig at The Horseshoe to find out if their live act could live up to their title and the power of their recorded songs.

Opening for the band was The Lonely Forest, from Anacortes, Washington. Singer/guitarist John Van Deusen showed a lot of personality, most notably in his spastic dancing.  The small town band packed a punch with songs that, while not unique were quite good, and energetically performed.  They had many members of the audience wanting more.  Canadian readers who may plan on seeing Death Cab for Cutie next month should make the effort to see The Lonely Forest open. Good job in warming up the audience and setting the bar for the headliners.

The Joy Formidable began their set with “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” an epic song that’s album version is almost eight minutes long. The song begins modestly enough but ends with a climactic roar which the band played so intensely that anyone just walking in would have thought it was the finale of their set.  I was somewhat skeptical of how the rest of the set would go after starting with such a bang.  Would it be all downhill from here?  Joyfully, no! The band never let up.  Less than halfway through the set, Daffyd was stomping and kicking at the stage so fiercely that plumes of dust rose up like volcanic ash reaching far beyond his knees.

Drummer Matt Thomas had his drum kit on the right side of the stage, rather than at the back.  This allowed him to ham it up a bit, and make a greater connection with the audience.  It was a nice change, especially when Bryan and Daffyd were able to go up to the drum kit without doing that annoying back-to-the-audience thing.  And rather than downplay their personal relationship, Bryan and Daffyd were not afraid to have subtle, little moments of intimacy on stage which were quite sweet.

The music, while it can be compared with the likes of Muse and fellow Welshmen, Manic Street Preachers, is wholly The Joy Formidable’s own.  Ritzy Bryan’s voice provides an airy balance to the band’s heavier, guitar-pedal driven sound.  But when performed live, her vocals were occasionally overpowered.  The best balance occurred with songs like “Chapter 2”, “I Don’t Want to See You Like This” and “Whirring” which required Bryan to belt it out.  Along with its vocals, final song “Whirring” was a full on assault of sound on guitar pedals and drums that made the opening song seem tame by comparison.

© Renee Saviour, Music Vice

Set List:
Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie
The Magnifying Glass
The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
I Don’t Want to See You Like This
Greyhounds in the Slips
A Heavy Abacus

Internet links:
The Lonely Forest
The Joy Formidable


Renee Saviour

activist, teacher, book lover, music zealot

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