You know it’s going to be a good show when a band has scenery on the stage. In this age of illegal file-sharing and general poor economic times (unless you’re the royal family…), the live tour is both more important and harder for a band, any band, with less money to support it and more of a need to make money from it. So acts scrimp and save, cutting back like the rest of us, especially if they’re already coming to America from across the pond, where austerity is the new rule. So expectations were raised at New York’s Webster Hall on Friday, April 29th, when the stage for Wales-by-way-of-London The Joy Formidable had a rug, a couch, a standing lamp, a mirror, candles, and more – including a gong.
Expectations were already high for The Joy Formidable, closing out their U.S. tour, because of their great debut full-length, The Big Roar (QRO review). Decidedly Big, despite coming from only a three-piece (not that unusual, historically – ask The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ask Hüsker Dü – QRO spotlight on), Roar lived up to the hype that the band had coming off their debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning (to be fair, Roar had four tracks from Balloon), so Joy’s track record was solid. Still, they are a young act, having only first played NYC in 2009 (QRO review), and they were already headlining the large, established Webster Hall (QRO venue review). But the setting of the stage set the stage for a great show.
The evening began like Roar, with the-building-into-Big “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” followed by the addition of a pedal-to-the-metal road-push in “The Magnifying Glass”, and the night pretty much stayed at that level. Singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan was somewhere between rockstress and pixie, excitable and dashing about the stage, between boyfriend/bassist Rhydian Dafydd to her right (who was also fairly mobile) and drummer Matt Thomas (who wasn’t, for obvious reasons, but was up at the front of the stage, not relegated to the back like most drummers are) to her left. Despite there being a couch on stage, no one (not playing drums) ever sat. In fact, the Persian rug that was laid out on the stage kept getting a corner flipped over by all the activity, to extent that roadies had to tape it down like a set list (QRO photo), so no one would trip over it.
The Joy Formidable playing “Cradle” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on April 29th, 2011:
With the great open and other early in the set songs like “The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade” and especially the amazing and energizing “Cradle”, the night did threaten to be a little front-loaded, especially when The Joy Formidable dropped down from the high spirits of “Cradle” into the much slower “Buoy” in the middle of the set (though the late set did see the gong come into play). But then came “Whirring” – and another, major, stage prop.
In addition to candles and strings of light bulbs around the stage, The Joy Formidable had brought statuettes of a black cat, staring out at the crowd from the lip of the stage, next to the couch, on a monitor, and elsewhere. But for “Whirring”, the last song before the encore break, in the middle of the stage an inflatable cat’s head began to grow, until it reach a spherical circumference of about ten feet or so. While it did obscure the band a bit, the giant totem made for special presence, staring at the crowd with a comic strip grin. It was occasionally knocked about by Bryan or Dafydd, and “Whirring” ended with Thomas, finally free to move, leaping on top of it, wrestling the air out of it as he sank to the ground (that might have been a special act for the last night of their tour, as Thomas could have broke the cat’s head for further shows, a-la Homer Simpson taking Peter Frampton’s inflatable pig to the gut to start his short-lived career as a traveling freak for Hullabalooza).
The Joy Formidable did return, playing “Greyhound In the Slips” from an NME compilation, before ending with the great “A Heavy Abacus”. They also asked people to give to the charity that they had been supporting on this tour (they support a different charity on every tour), Crisis, as well as thanking the crowd for coming out, even when times are tight – “unless you’re the royal family,” a jibe on the same day as the marriage of two of their countrymen (there were a few too many people in the crowd thinking that they were funny by making a drunken joke about the wedding, especially guys trying to pick up girls – thank goodness all of that has been completely superceded by more recent, much more important news…). The Joy Formidable’s live show is strong enough that they don’t need the scenery & props (they’re not Carrot Top…) – but it always helps add that extra, special something.