Concert Review: The Joy Formidable @ Rock and Roll Hotel (11/29/19)

The Joy Formidable
The Joy Formidable (Photo Credit: Timothy Hiatt)

The Welsh indie rockers, The Joy Formidable, blazed into the Rock and Roll Hotel and greeted the expectant crowd with an excellent evening of reminiscing and live music.

All good things. The reminiscing because the new tour (where the Rock and Roll Hotel marked the first show on the U.S. portion) is all about celebrating the 10th Anniversary of their first EP, 2008’s A Balloon Called Moaning. In fact, so committed to this celebratory remembrance, they performed all eight of the EP’s songs in order to kick off the live set. In all, they performed 15 songs representing points from their entire 10-year history.

The first song from the EP and the first of the evening fired up our rock spirit, with it’s killer guitar hook intro. “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade”, wants you to believe that ‘a calm day will come’, but it wasn’t today. The band was on fire all evening.

The Joy Formidable is Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan (on vocals and guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (on bass and sometimes vocals), and Matthew James Thomas (on drums and gong). Maybe to prove they are all equals, they arranged themselves at the front of the stage, Rhydian to the left, Ritzy in the center, and Matthew facing the other two at his drum set on the right (not at all overshadowed by the giant gong directly behind him.)

The fourth song of the set was “Austere”, which I’m fairly sure was the first song I ever heard by The Joy Formidable. Back then I was immediately struck by the desire to find out whom I was listening to, and later bought the said EP. That led to my desire to witness them live, which I’ve now accomplished five times.

Song six, “Whirring”, could be my favorite song from A Balloon Called Moaning. I’ve always been curious to learn more about the ‘invisible friend’ in the lyrics. There was hardly time to contemplate this however, as they each went to furious work on the guitars and drums for an extended dive that erupted into a glorious wall of sound, solidifying my opinion.

As if a tour wasn’t enough, they also released a 10th Anniversary Edition of the EP, with all eight songs also available in Welsh. Pretty nifty if you’re fluent in Welsh (I’m not) or just want to try to parse the amazing sounds of the songs with the new lyrics (I’ll try).

With all this nostalgia for their first EP, don’t overlook their fourth full-length album released in 2018, AAARTH (via Seradom). Yet they only played two songs from this album.

One such song was “Y Bluen Eira”, sung in Welsh, a super rock anthem, with a driving guitar riff that rocked our asses off. I’m not as familiar with all the songs of AAARTH, but live this one in particular was great.

Ritzy told a few stories and joked around during the set, seemingly chuffed to be here. Some of what she shared was lost to our ears as her rich accent tried to penetrate through the buzzing masses. One story gave us a peek at her fondness for DC, since she lived here for school. She dropped out, sold all her books, became a nanny, and wrote songs. During another interlude there was speculation that Matthew’s head was going through the gong, because ‘shit happens on tour’. Thankfully, no heads were gonged in our presence.

After all the intense rocking, they played a different, ‘quieter’ version of “The Leopard and the Lung”, the only entry from their album Wolf’s Law. We did use the quieter moment to recover. No complaints, but it’s too bad they couldn’t focus a fraction more on this album, since it’s probably their strongest.

They ended the main set with the other song from AAARTH, “Caught on a Breeze” and amidst the lights and the twirling beats and the whispered lyrics about not staying still, it did feel like a whirlwind that we couldn’t escape. Rather, didn’t want to escape, as no one in the audience was willing to stand still.

For the encore, Ritzy sought requests from the still ready crowd. Someone must have whispered “Anemone” from the front, because she indicated that it was a deep cut that they had never played here (in DC I will assume). It’s an original song from their 2011 EP, The Big More.

The big finish came with the epic “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie”. The lyrics speak to the many shapes of love, punctuated by the chill-inducing, atmospheric chorus of ‘Nothing outside will care enough’. The well-crafted ending seemed to last forever, but sadly came to a raucous end, when we were released to meander out of the Rock and Roll Hotel, wondering when we’d get our next fix of The Joy Formidable live.

It won’t come soon enough. While I wonder about their next foray to DC, I’ll be revisiting A Balloon Called Moaning until I can understand it in Welsh.

Setlist
The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
Cradle
Austere
While the Flies
Whirring
9669
The Last Drop
Ostrich
Y Bluen Eira
I Don’t Want to See You Like This
Passerby
The Leopard and the Lung
Caught on a Breeze

Encore
Anemone
The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

One thought on “Concert Review: The Joy Formidable @ Rock and Roll Hotel (11/29/19)”

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