Show Review: The Joy Formidable with A Place To Bury Strangers and Big Black Delta at The Independent, 3/12/2012

by Jonathan Pirro on March 13, 2012

Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable

Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable

A rather frustrating phenomenon that exists for enthusiastic concertgoers who follow up-and-coming artists is the long, long wait that precedes a band’s “official” rise to stardom. This term is placed in quotes, because the true mark of becoming a major player in the live music scene is being the headlining act of the tour you’ve embarked upon. The last two times that the Welsh trio known as The Joy Formidable have made their way to the Bay Area, they’ve taken residence on the smaller Sutro stage of the Outside Lands Festival, and opened for The Naked And Famous at a special pre-party concert that preceded Live 105’s Not So Silent Night. Despite bringing along some heavy hitters whose reputation and following would allow them to take the reigns and lead the way, the trio of Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd and Matt Thomas have finally claimed their spot as the main event, and they’ve taken their newfound thrones with all the explosive fury and unrelenting power that was present at their last few appearances — with absolutely no sign of slowing down as they stunned the packed-in audience at the Independent on Monday night.

Jonathan Bates of Big Black Delta

Jonathan Bates of Big Black Delta

The draw of the music and songwriting that The Joy Formidable possess is such that their fanbase has a wide spread across atmospheric rock, warbling synths, and massive walls of crushing guitar noise. While opening act Big Black Delta, masterminded by Mellowdrone vocalist Jonathan Bates, were not possessed of strings or axes, they did come barreling into the show with frenzied dance moves on behalf of Bates and a crisp, solid set of beats from drummer Mahsa Zargaran. Equipped with only a laptop and the drumkit, Bates still lent his ethereal, musky baritone notes to songs that weaved back and forth between dream pop tunes and synth rock grooves that would please fans of Depeche Mode, M83, and even Hot Chip. In a somewhat jarring twist from the sparkly electronics and bright, colorful lights of Big Black Delta, however, the New York noise trio known as A Place To Bury Strangers did not so much bounce onstage as they did howl and scream their way into existence, with the members of the band immersed in the pitch-dark shadows of the club for almost the entirety of their set.

Dion Lunadon of A Place To Bury Strangers

Dion Lunadon of A Place To Bury Strangers

The stark blackness of the stage added a harrowing mystery to the band’s visual appearance, lit only by awkwardly-angled projectors that cast dancing images across the faces of guitarist Oliver Ackermann and bassist Dion Lunadon. Contrasting the group’s invisibility were the hellishly loud sounds that they generated for nigh unto a full hour, a mix of shoegaze howling and furious punk aggression behind gorgeously dangerous walls of static, feedback, and a crushing rhythm from drummer Jason “Jay Space” Weilmeister. (It should be noted that A Place To Bury Strangers holds a reputation as one of the loudest acts to hail from their state of New York, and as such are one of the few bands that actually sells their own sets of earplugs at their concerts, as was indeed the case tonight.) Such a rampaging onslaught of aural mayhem would likely only end when the band’s instruments no longer worked, but they proved this otherwise: in addition to hurling down guitars and basses that went out of tune or became otherwise unusable, Ackermann’s final act was to shred the strings from the neck of his own guitar before hurling it into his pedalboard, allowing the trio to leave the stage amidst a hailstorm of cacophonous distortion and a blizzard of white noise.

Oliver Ackermann of A Place To Bury Strangers

Oliver Ackermann of A Place To Bury Strangers

It makes the most sense to have preceding acts be a vague hint of what’s to come, but with such a shift in sonic texture between the delicate haunt of Big Black Delta and the unadulterated assault of A Place To Bury Strangers, an outsider would have been hard pressed to know what to expect with the main act for the evening. It is quite rewarding, therefore, to see that The Joy Formidable is one act that could not have a more well-chosen moniker, with all three members armed with gleeful expressions and wild energy from the moment they leapt onto the stage and began thrashing out the first notes of “A Heavy Abacus”, a well-loved number from their debut record The Big Roar. Singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan is a frontwoman possessed of astonishing and wonderful charisma, with wide eyes and wider smiles paired with a frenzied but precise style of play that shifts from power chords to walls of sound within the span of moments. All three members play off each other magnificently, as if any moment spent upon the stage without lyrics is a moment wasted if they are not running back and forth across it.

Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd

Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd

With only one album under their belt, one might assume that it would be difficult to span out a 10-song set over the course of an hour and a half. Unencumbered by the quantity of their song choices, Ritzy, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas take each song and extend various sections within, drawing out crescendos and solos as if determined to push the envelope on live performance as far as it is possible to go with a thundering three-piece act. To change things up slightly this time around, they were joined onstage by a harpist, named as Stephanie by Ritzy, for a mellow but beautiful performance of “Llaw = Wall” near the end of their set. Stephanie returned to take up the harp once more during the band’s final encore, the cataclysmic phenomenon known as “Whirring”, a piece known for its constantly-extending duration and ever-growing prelude to chaos and destruction on behalf of the trio. Tonight was no different, with Ritzy hurling her guitar by the strings into her amplifiers repeatedly, before pounding her fists into the pedalboard and cranking out wail after distorted wail. Having the last word tonight was drummer Matt, who took over where the now-prone Ritzy left off by mercilessly hurling his drumsticks across the stage, before the three weary but jovial bandmates departed from the stage, bathed in the ecstatic cheering of a crowd positively bursting with excitement.

Ritzy and Matt Thomas

Ritzy and Matt Thomas

Anyone who has had a chance to listen to The Big Roar or to see The Joy Formidable in concert will have experienced, as I have, the anthemic songwriting and unyielding spirit that these Welsh musicians possess in spades. It is, therefore, an incredible experience to finally see them take control of the stage for the span of a headlining set, with not one iota of that energy depleted from their performances. The happiness and, perhaps, slightly-amazed excitement of Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt is proudly and unabashedly displayed on their faces, as if each song is a reminder that they’re overjoyed to be doing what they’re currently engaged in. No more important feeling of connectedness can exist than that between a band that loves what they do and the audience that loves them for it, and The Joy Formidable are poised to hold that feeling tightly and run rampant through the world with it for many years to come.

The Joy Formidable's setlist (encores: Buoy / Greyhounds In The Slips / Whirring)

The Joy Formidable's setlist (encores: Buoy / Greyhounds In The Slips / Whirring)

 

A Place To Bury Strangers' setlist

A Place To Bury Strangers' setlist

 

Big Black Delta's setlist

Big Black Delta's setlist

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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