While The Joy Formidable released only their second album, Wolf’s Law (QRO review), earlier this year, they feel almost like veterans at this point. Well, almost – they’ve still got the exuberance of a young band, but have the stage presence of veterans. This undoubtedly comes from being touring machines, have been on the road near-constantly both before and after releasing debut full-length, The Big Roar (QRO review), from introductory opening gigs (QRO live review) to first headline tour (QRO live review) to stadium opening gigs (for Foo Fighters – QRO album review) to headlining tours at bigger venues (QRO photos). Their first Wolf’s Law tours have taken them from their native U.K. to Europe and then America, first South-by-Southwest (QRO photos) then middle America (QRO photos) and now New York, at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday, April 17th.
It was slightly odd that the band was playing Music Hall (QRO venue review), considering their last headlining tour hit the much larger Terminal 5 (QRO venue review). Admittedly, they were playing a space in between the two in size the next night, Webster Hall (QRO venue review), making this the ‘intimate show’ – and they’d played the much smaller upstairs at Bowery Hotel for free last fall (QRO photos). The show was sold out, but before and even during opener Blood Red Shoes (QRO photos), Music Hall felt rather empty. Perhaps it was late arrivals on hump day, or people were just all in the downstairs bar, but the venue certainly filled up by the time the trio hit the stage.
The rule with almost any rock trio is that they’ve got to be active live, lest they come off diminished and less than stage-filling up there, and The Joy Formidable certainly are that. The lion’s share (or would that be Wolf’s share?…) of the credit goes to frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, whose pixie-like size (and name) belies incredible energy. She jumps around the stage, bouncing off her bandmates and everything else they’ve got up there (previous tours featured couches or a naval steering wheel – this one had a massive projection screen; the only constant is a gong…). She’s also got an impressively effective delivery, seemingly managing to stare directly at each and every member of the audience at one time or another, with a head jerk and piercing eyes for maximum effect. And that’s to say nothing of charming Welsh accent, even if her banter at Music Hall was limited by a sore throat – but not her singing.
Still, special mention must be made of bassist Rhydian Dafydd (QRO interview) and drummer Matt Thomas. Dafydd’s size means that he can’t bounce around quite as much as Bryan (at least not without running over equipment and/or Bryan…), but he’s no less excited to be on stage. Being far less tied to a microphone also lets him interact with the crowd more – at Music Hall (which has no photo pit to divide the fans from the band), he had one definite friend right up in front of him, to whom he passed off his bass at the end of the night (note: roadie did get the bass back).
Being a trio actually helps out Thomas, as it means that he’s not relegated to the back like so many drummers, but right at the lip of the stage. Indeed, he is even face perpendicular to the stage, so that he’s not even behind his drum-set, but fully in view of the crowd as he smashes on his kit. And no Joy Formidable show is complete without two things – that gong getting rung and Thomas high-fiving the crowd to close the night out.
The Joy Formidable playing Wolf’s Law‘s “Little Blimp” live at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY on April 17th, 2013:
The set list was naturally weighted towards Wolf’s Law, a more varied record that did make it harder to carry the band’s natural energy smoothly throughout the night. The slow & quiet “Silent Treatment” is a great song, but is hard to fit into a live set, even when bookended by other Wolf’s pieces. But the band only having two full-lengths (there is also an early tour EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, but most of it can be found on The Big Roar) meant that the group didn’t have to skip over early favorites, like “I Don’t Want To See You Like This” and “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” to go into their encore break. Their encore return was particularly notable, with Wolf’s Law’s slow hidden title track seguing into The Big Roar’s “Whirring” for a massive finish.
The Joy Formidable playing “Wolf’s Law” and “Whirring” live at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY on April 17th, 2013: