The Joy Formidable: Fiddlers Club, Bristol – live review
The Joy Formidable,
Fiddlers Club, Bristol
29th Jan 2013
Recently returned after a year seemingly (to us Brits anyway) lying dormant The Joy Formidable are following up the release of the latest (& well received) sophomore album Wolf’s Law with a set of gigs. As this may be the last chance we get to see them in a smaller, more intimate setting Louder Than War decided for itself that attendance was obligatory. Here’s why they’re one of our favourite Indie Rock bands.
Knowing ‘myself’ as well as I know ‘myself’ (which, I like to think, is reasonably well) I wouldn’t have me (‘myself’) marked down as a fan of The Joy Formidable. And yet time & time again I prove my assumptions about myself wrong.
It was a couple of years ago when I first saw TJF. I was at a loose end & fancied a gig & as The Joy Formidable were the best of what at the time I thought was “a bad bunch” of gigs that were on that night they won my attendance. And not only did they win my attendance but they properly proceded to blow me away too, so much so that I included them in my top gigs of 2011 (out of roughly 150 gigs) alongside the likes of Fucked Up, King Midas Sound, Daedalus and … and that’s probably not impressing you as much as it should so I’ll drop a link to the page (HERE and letcha go explore for yoursleves if interested).
Anyway, long story short an all, I’ve been a fan of them ever since. The indie rock band (the ‘rock”s important here – no fey, floppy, emotional cowering kids these (try a word association (football) game around “Indie band” & I betcha you get “ummm, oh yeah, fey, floppy, emotional cowering kids”)) have been conquering Americky since last we looked, helped by fans in the music worlds higher echelons, such as Mr Dave Grohl & Muse who took them out on tour with them. On slow moments I like to imagine those Muse fans who arrived early enough to see TJF having their their minds blown by some PROPER FUCKING MUSIC and rather than stay for the Muse go home to find some, you know, good music like TJF.
So here they are, back with a new album & ready to conquer home (no, not North Wales silly, the UK) with a new, recently released album up their sleeves showcasing a grander, more orchestral sound yet still retaining all the things we’ve come to know & love about the band; their driving intensity, sterling hooks & downright joyfulfulness (all describy word thingy’s present & correct not only on the album but at tonights gig too) whilst mixing it up with some quieter, more reflective moments.
And so (about bloody time to) to the gig. Apologies to We Are Animal whose set I missed. Circumstances contrived to mean that I arrived too late to catch you dudes, for which I apologise. I hear you played a blinder though, (from Big Jeff natch) so hopefuly I’ll get a chance to “make it up to you next time” real soon.
The gig was sold out so the talk of them “conquering home (no, not North Wales silly, the UK (yep, I know I’ve already said that, top marks for paying attention))” is pretty much redundant – it’s safe to say they’ve already done that more effectively than 99.99% of the bands I go to see. The place was properly packed to the gunnels. In fact I’d be tempted to suggest the place had been oversold so rammed was it but I dont want to get the venue in trouble so I wont. Needless to say, soon as the band took to the stage the place erupted with a sea of people, well, just looking like they were enjoying themsleves really. Weirdly unexcited they seemed, yet smiling to a person & certainly the applause that greeted the end of the first song suggested they were having a ball. And so they should have been, this band’s recorded music may be great but live is where they literally come into their own. Some bands strive to be this good the whole of their careers, to TJF it comes naturally. They have so nailed the live thing.
That more orchestral sound I mentioned earlier wasnt really noticeable live. Well, as it was pointed out to me, there’s hardly room on Fiddlers stage for the whole of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales after all is there? What was noticeable was that the drving, ballsy, powerful, hook laden songs that their set used to almost exclusively consist of had been supplemented by rather more slower, catch yer breath, numbers than before. As someone who tends to lose his shit at live gigs I kind of appreciated this – I like catching my breath at times during live sets & being a bit of a twerp can often forget.
A sense of confidence has always cloaked TJF. They know they’ve got songs that’ll please people &, pertinently, they obviously really enjoy playing them. In fact they seemed to be having more fun than most of the staid audience were, despite the fact that an audience on stage having a ball is usually infectious.
It’s those driving, powerful songs that really get me & that work so well live. They’ve been doing them since year dot & I can think of no band that does them better. It’s hefty stuff yet light too, verging on the “pop” sometimes so obvious are the hooks. Ritzy IS the band’s confidence, both during & between songs she’s the focal point a she happily banters away with the audience between songs, drawing the other two members of the band into the conversation when (if) she wants. And during the songs she’s a proper whirling dervish. So much has TJF’s conviction & self belief risen that they also now own the quieter songs they play too. In most bands hands quieter numbers tend towards the fragile. Not so TJF.
I was enjoying myself with such an urgency that I almost forgot to be massivley irked by the audience’s insistence on clapping along ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Who does that? Who thinks people come to a gig to listen to them clapping? I can just about understand it (but still loathe it) when audience’s join in with a clapalong instigated by the band but FWIW (& IMO to boot) the only place ‘the clap’ should raise it’s ugly little head is in an auld folks homes when it forms the basis of that days physical education for the in folk (the “auld uns”). And while I’m on the subject of the audience, what about the PRIZE PLONKER / MASSIVE DOOFUS who called out for a Pixies cover? I guess this is what happens when you start appealing to more than committed “music fans” but fer crying out loud eh? Fortunately Ritzy was up to the task of squashing the dork with a single sentence (one it appeared she’s had to use before) a sentence that was “As I’ve told you before, we’re not a fucking wedding covers band”. “Gaah”, anyway eh? Oh, and one more thing about the audience, I swear while the rest of us have aged 1 or 2 years in the last 1 or 2 years that TJF’s fans have aged 20 years. Do we put this down to the Dave Grohl effect? I guess it makes sense that a man whose most well known album was released 20 years ago should be preaching to & reaching an older audience.
Enough about the audience. Well received though all the new songs were it was noticeable that the 3 (I think) that went down most well were all from The Lion’s Roar, not least of which was the closing song “Whirring”. Perhaps this is to be expected, people have had a long time to get familiar with The Lion’s Roar, but it all served to kind of back up what I’ve been thinking about the band for a while which is that although they’ve “moved” their sound with this latest release (i.e. it’s not a “treading water” release as some have suggested) they’ve moved it outwards rather than forwards, consolidating rather than progressing, working more on the stuff they’re not so good at rather than that they’ve already nailed. This isn’t a bad thing at all, indeed, far from it. I’d be more than haapy for them to keep on throwing out another Lion’s Roar every year or so. But it appears they arent doing that, which is equally exciting. What it appears they’re doing is making sure they’re as tight “left” as they already are “right” & “centre” before they properly move on & (fingers crossed) astound us.
That this bands best days are still to come is something that I’m pretty convinced, and when they do come, by golly are they gunna come hard.