SunFest Reviews: The Joy Formidable, Bastille

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[Editor’s note: The Week Ahead will run on Tuesday this week.]

“It’s quite a lovely evening, but that’s common here, isn’t it?”

This sentiment, expressed by the Joy Formidable’s Ritzy Bryan, reached a consensus on the JetBlue stage at SunFest this past Friday: Both her band, which hails from Wales, and Bastille, which is based in London, couldn’t contain their joy of playing a perfect rainless springtime gig in paradise, with palm trees fronting the stage and a nice breeze drifting from the Intracoastal.

We’re glad they escaped the European climes too, because both offered exhilarating performances for the eclectic West Palm Beach audience. The Joy Formidable, playing to a fairly small but passionate crowd, performed an exciting—if not always sound-balanced—eight-song set with material dating to its 2008 debut.

Bryan is a beautiful and charismatic frontwoman with a distinctive voice, but seeing the Joy Formidable live serves to remind audiences of her proficiency with the ax: She channeled her inner Hendrix with the snaky “Last Thing On My Mind” before slaying us with the big, Sabbath-style riffs of “Maw Maw Song,” with its deft use of an onstage gong. The song ended, as so many great Joy Formidable performances do, with a sonic blitzkrieg and light show, with strobe effects functioning like lightning among the thunder of drummer Matthew Thomas’ percussion.

The Suzanne Vega-esque “Liana” proved to be the closest song in the set to a ballad (it would have been a treat to hear “Silent Treatment,” but oh well), and it’s likewise a stronger, more urgent tune in a live setting than on record. The group sent us away with its raucous, traditional closer “Whirring,” during which Bryan butted her head into the chest of bassist Rhydian Dafydd and he pushed her forehead with his hand in return, like some sort of Inuit mating ritual. By the time the song collapsed into a sea of feedback, both Bryan and her mic stand had hit the floor. The set, though noticeably short, presented a band that clearly loves what it does, performing at the peak of its primacy.

Bastille took the stage next, eliciting a sea of red glow sticks bobbing to the dance beat. The four-piece electropop sensations played almost everything from their debut “Bad Blood,” along with a smattering of B-sides, covers and new material—which generally moved with a darker, crunchier texture than the poppiest songs on “Bad Blood.” Daniel Smith proved to be a self-deprecating frontman, suggesting a potential bathroom break/beer run before playing the aching ballad “Oblivion.” But those who did leave the spots during the song missed quite a sight: the glow of hundreds of cell phone cameras—replacing the lighters from rock shows of yore—swaying to the slow beat like rhythmic fireflies.

Smith energized the crowd by using all of the stage and then some—perching on an upraised plank, climbing into the audience, thwacking the massive drum kit at center stage. The group’s two remixed covers, of Corona’s dancehall classic “Rhythm of the Night,” and TLC’s “No Scrubs,” added a nice amount of variety to the set list.

The Joy Formidable set list

The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade

Little Blimp

Passerby

The Last Thing on My Mind

Maw Maw Song

Cradle

Liana

Whirring

Bastille set list

Flaws

Laura Palmer

Send Them off

Things We Lost in the Fire

These Streets

Blame

Oblivion

The Currents

Bad Blood

Of the Night

Laughter Lines

Hangin’

Icarus

The Draw

No Angels

Snakes

The Weight of Living, Part II

Pompeii