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.

The Joy Formidable Set List:
The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
Radio of Lips
Little Blimp
Wolf’s Law
The Last Thing on My Mind
Cradle (preceded by drum solo)
The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie
The Brook (acoustic)
The Leopard and the Lung

Everything Everything Set List:
Blast Doors
Fortune 500
The Wheel
Spring Summer Winter Dread
Cough Cough
No Reptiles
Distant Past

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