In all my years of gigs, I’ve never worn earplugs once. I didn’t even take the ones they gave out at My Bloody Valentine‘s set at the Picnic in ’08. That’s how hardcore my ears are and/or how stupid I am. I would, however, have gladly used ear plugs on Friday night while watching The Joy Formidable tear through their short, clamorous set in Academy 2. Their collection of punked-up, breakneck-speed songs blaring through the big speakers in the small basement room did some considerable damage to my right ear but I can’t say I regret it one bit. Their sound is completely at odds with that of their support act, Our Little Secrets, who seem to be opening every gig in Dublin with their thoughtful, melodic indie tunes. I didn’t see the Rhob Cunningham-led troupe on this occassion but the gulf between their styles is probably visible from space.
A long wait for the headline act allowed one to prepare for the contrast in sound while the crowd began to swell, edging closer to the front of the stage where eager fans inquisitively checked out the set-list written on an orange on the floor. From this we knew we were getting the short and sweet set that is to be expected from a band that have yet to finalise their debut album. Latest single “Popinjay” aside, the material for tonight’s show is drawn from their 2009 mini-album A Balloon Called Moaning. The Welsh three-piece stroll onto the 2-inch high stage and quietly go about getting their various bits and bobs in order. Singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan spends some time putting her collection of 15 guitar pedals to good use as the band work up a bit of a racket before belting into opener “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade”. Already the band are creating a huge, scuzzy din and – by hurling themselves back and forth around the stage – have begun to looked a bit more ragged than the refined young people who walked onstage just a few moments ago. Frontwoman Ritzy was wearing a tidy grey dress and the more she flung herself about, the more she resembled an office worker letting off steam on a Friday night. Her energy and enthusiasm were valiantly matched by bass-playing singer Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas. Following this up with the excellent “Cradle”, it was clear that the large crowd were well versed in the band’s back catalogue and their delight at most of tonight’s renditions resembled the kind of reactions normally reserved for bigger bands in considerably bigger venues. It seems inevitable that such luxurious surroundings will soon play host to The Joy Formidable live show. They’ve lured a very good crowd down to this underground corner and with a performance like this, their stock should be rising quicksmart.
The band could easily have dissappeared into the abyss that often swallows those bands of whom great things are expected very early on, but they have been quietly (actually, very loudly) working away, recording, touring and building up a decent following to accompany the positive reviews. Last summer I tipped them as ones to catch at Oxegen. As it turned out, they were nowhere near the IMRO tent at their advertised time so I didn’t get to see them. While announcing that this was their Dublin debut, Ritzy notes that they did in fact play Oxegen last year but that is not in Dublin. She is an amicable frontwoman, humbly chatting with the crowd assembled a few inches away from her throughout the set. The performances – apart from being extremely loud – are characterised by a mix of exhilerating, thrashing intensity and enduring, giddy smiles. This is never more evident than during “Austere”, the track that originally got me hooked on the band nearly two years ago. Its sugar-sweet, cyclical vocal melody paired with a caustic guitars and a brutal drum breakdown make for euphoric listening. Though the sound is never perfect in the venue, this is both to be expected from a venue like this and, possibly, desired by a band like this. The harsh, ear-splitting noise they create is bone-shakingly loud and let-ups from this kind of upbeat, visceral punk are few and far between. The concise and condensed set nears its completion with the airstrike assault rock of “Popinjay” gearing the crowd up for a truly epic closing performance of the pounding, primal optimism of “Whirring”. Though the venue, sound and deafening performances could well have worked against them, The Joy Formidable succeeded by doing all the important things right. They were tight, energetic and adventurous while maintaining a pleasant, friendly and cosy atmosphere within which they were free to expand their joyously noisy, danceable songs. Everything they did was done with earnest dedication and there was not a single moment when you could be foold into thinking they weren’t giving it their all. You also believe them when they say they’ll be back soon. It seems obvious that the demand for their next visit will be vastly greater once their live reputation and upcoming debut album gather pace.