The Joy Formidable is a hard band to describe to people. I’ve seen them called “ecstatic dance rock,” “evolutionary shoegaze,” and last night, one extremely drunk fan called them “the best band in the world!” over and over again until the rest of the crowd finally told him to shut up. As an admitted obsessive fan, I’m not sure I have anything particularly wise or witty to add to the conversation, other than an excited “fuck yeah!” in response to the aforementioned drunk fan. That makes me both the right and wrong person to be reviewing the band, so here I go.The Lonely Forest opened the show, and all I knew of them before they started playing is that they’re from Washington, a fact I learned because I asked the lead singer about his Canucks t-shirt. But after they started, I really liked what I heard. Sometimes writing about music is like writing tasting notes for wine or chocolate, and that’s what my notebook (Notes app) looked like when they were done: NMH vocals, Matthew Sweet arrangements, Michael Penn melodies, some Death Cab moments. Now it turns out their newest album, Arrows, is produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, and they’ll be joining them on their upcoming club tour. That seems like an excellent pairing, and I for one will be glad to see them again at The Fillmore in June.
Every time I’ve seen The Joy Formidable before, they all set up their equipment with the help of one guy running around like crazy trying to help them. This time out, though, they have someone who looks to be an actual guitar tech, and he sets up the gear for Ritzy Bryan, the lead singer and guitarist. Meanwhile, Rhydian and Matt, the bassist and drummer, set up their own gear. What does this tell me? It tells me that Ritzy is now officially getting treated like the superstar she is. She’s a hard person to take your eyes off of — she’s short and blonder than blonde with piercing, almost frightening blue eyes, and plays guitar with the fierceness of a thousand men. It’s like if a girl from Children of the Damned started kicking ass on stage. She’s awesome.
I mentioned the crazy drunk fan, and other than he and about ten other people, there wasn’t much jumping around at the show. Frankly, I don’t know whether or not they were making an impression on the crowd. We San Franciscans can look so bored at times, even when we’re completely happy. Personally I was in the front screaming along with about six other people, yet every time I took a glance behind me, y’know, to join the pit, there was none to be found. I think maybe they had been expecting something more sullen and shoegazey, and the raucous energy of the show took them by surprise. Or maybe they weren’t that into it. Their loss.
Pardon these ramblings of a fan, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to solve the riddle of what the band sounds like. I do find that when I like a band a lot, within a few spins of their record, I stop remembering who else they sounds like and immediately make a space in my mind for their sound. So don’t worry about who The Joy Formidable sound like; they sound like The Joy Formidable. And if you don’t make space in your mind for them, your mind is going to lose out.
So do I agree with the drunk fan? At times, I do. At times, The Joy Formidable seem like the best band in the world.
The Joy Formidable’s sweat-soaked set list from 4/14/2011 at Bottom of the Hill: