The Joy Formidable at the Gothic Theatre
Ritzy Bryan, lead singer of the Joy Formidable, is an undisputed, reincarnated Goddess of the Rock.
The Welsh, London-based group lit up the stage with fellows Guards and Fort Lean at the Gothic Theater. And I, being one of the true believers, made sure I was there.
The band has been fairly quiet in the past year, only leaking out the occasional single. But in January they released their new album Wolf’s Law; follow up to critically acclaimed The Big Roar. It was what might be the last chance to get up close and personal with the trio, guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer Matt Thomas.
The night opened with a performance by unsigned Brooklyn based Fort Lean. Upon first glance, Fort Lean looks like the aftermath of a midlife crises, a can of hairspray, and a post Mighty Boosh breakup. As I saw them take the stage I braced myself for Dandy Warhol covers, adolescent-like angst, and nineties-ish slacker rock. To my pleasant surprise, I was greeted with upbeat, poppy, guitar sounds (further evidence for the old and tried adage, ‘never judge a book by its cover.’) The band’s frontman Keenan Mitchell’s powerful voice carried catchy tunes with handclaps, guitar riffs and solos, and omnipresent “oohs” from his backing vocalists. The crowd responded to Fort Lean jovially, joking with Mitchell and his drummer. One member of the crowd became so chummy with the band while they were on stage that they even ordered drinks for the band members. The moment was reflective of the music Fort Lean played through their set: bouncy, amiable, accessible pop rock. Fort Lean’s music certainly doesn’t transcend or transform any musical genres or boundaries, but like anything familiar, their music was comfortable; a solid warm up for a slowly enlarging audience.
A smoke machine, and shortly after, a smoke filled theater was Guards’ self-introduction to the Denver-but-technically-Lakewood crowd. High off their recent, buzz generating performances at Austin’s South by Southwest. Guards 60s-ish attire, long black hair, and overall demeanor reminded me of recent indie love darling Cults. I found out later from Guards keyboardist that the similarity was no coincidence and that Guard’s vocalist and guitarist Richie Follin is elder brother to Cults’ lead vocalist Madeline Follin.
While Guards’ vocals and style traverses similar melodic and sonic territory as Cults, their sound remains distinctly different. Abandoning the honey-laden, 60s girl group coos of his sister, Guards sometimes felt like a hazy jam band, complete with glittering, twinkling synths. Their music is as unadorned as their sister band, and pushes the 60s-inspired rock of Cults though time. There were times where Follin even played his guitar behind his back and over his head, a la a high school Battle of the Bands show off.
The Joy Formidable took the stage late in the evening. And by then, I was ready to pay tribute.
Greeting the crowd with a roar frontman Ritzy Bryan bounced around the stage like an anthropomorphic pogo stick. She was backed by the impressive like falsettos of Dafydd and the playful, octopus drumming of Thomas. Bryan did her best to engage with the audience between songs, but I honestly grew impatient whenever she did. While charming, I found myself eager to reenter the drunken rock trance the band put me in. At one point Bryan even leaped off the stage, letting fans strum and touch her guitar; like a holy figure accepting prayers.
The Joy Formidable is often clumsily—and problematically—categorized as ‘indie rock.’ The phrase ‘indie rock’ often invokes an image of skinny, temperamental 20-somethings lamenting the pains of love or some other nonsense. Yet on stage the Joy Formidable exudes the confidence and swagger of a rock band in their prime during the seventies. Bryan demands attention, and receives it. Subsequently, the term ‘indie rock’ seems inappropriate. Being at a Joy Formidable show isn’t like being at an ‘indie show.’ It’s like being in the inside of a maelstrom; a collision of Bryan’s snarling earnestness, heavy riffs/instrumental force, and melodic finesse.
While listening to Wolf’s Law I wondered how the band would be able to recreate the orchestral sounds in a live setting. Those fears were quickly mitigated. The band brought its familiar feeling of precarious-but-thrilling ascent, pummeling drums, and buzzing guitars. The Joy Formidable does live what Muse has been trying but has been unable to do for years; create arena music for the small space.
Here’s the band at a different live show: