(Photos by Yafi Yair)
To a capacity throng of admiring fans, the Welsh trio Joy Formidable played a pulverizing set last night at Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room. Slaying guitar, thunderous bass and booming percussion – including a gong, for Pete’s sake – characterized the group’s first South Florida appearance. The show oozed bombast, feeling better suited to a vast, airy arena than an intimate club. It’s a sound that could rock stadiums, and probably will before you know it.
Ritzy Bryan, the band’s charismatic lead singer and guitarist, beamed an ear-to-ear smile as she took the stage in a glittery purple dress and flowing choker, immediately reflecting high energy and exuberance at the thought of playing her songs to a new audience. Opening number “Cholla” drowned in an Olympic-sized pool of bass, but the sound team fixed it by the end of the song, and everything sounded pretty flawless to my ears from that point on. The band tore through another dozen tracks from its debut LP “The Big Roar” and its recent, extraordinary follow-up “Wolf’s Law” – all in front of an inventive, luminous projection screen shaped like a wolf’s head at the back of the stage. Images from Joy Formidable videos, along with animation, old movie montages and political symbolism, accompanied certain tracks.
I enjoyed the surprises here and there – the deviations from the album tracks, like the elegant piano bridge in “Tendons,” a sparse and pretty transition where the original swelled with an orchestral din. Mostly, the changes yielded longer, louder, and more playful riffs on roof-shakers like “Maw Maw Song,” with its pummeling, head-banging squall, and “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie,” which closed the set list with a raucous thrill.
The band returned for “Wolf’s Law” and “Whirring,” turning the latter hit into an epileptic’s nightmare of popping lights and a dissonant, democratic audio collapse, with Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd passing their instruments into the audience, chafing them against their amplifiers and other instruments, and making a whole bunch of glorious chaos with which to send people off.
In the end, though, my favorite moment of the show – and I’m sure I’m not alone here – was the performance of “Silent Treatment,” the band’s lone acoustic confessional, with Dafydd providing the intricate guitar work and Bryan pouring her heart out with the clearest vocal melodies of the night. I never wanted the moment to end, and it’s proof that there’s a great folk act in this band somewhere, buried under the generous heaps of noise.
This Ladder is Ours
The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
Maw Maw Song
I Don’t Want to See You Like This
The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie