Live Review: The Joy Formidable

The Borderline, London, 29th January

Andy Wilsher/NME
Photo: Andy Wilsher/NME
Just one thing wrong with this spectacular set – it doesn’t take place in a stadium

The shock of jumping from a sauna into an icy pool slaps the nervous system awake, rudely jolting the brain and heart. On a bitter, barren evening in London, we reverse the process by plunging into the dense fug of the Borderline for a sharp, steamy wake-up.

If, according to idle and gullible stat-analysers, rock really is dead, then someone forgot to tell Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd and Matt Thomas. The raw, Pumpkins-punchy riffs of ‘The Magnifying Glass’ rip away the clouds of global gloom and gather you here, into this moment now. It’s heartening to hear a British band doing this sort of heavy, romantic, grunge-flavoured rock so well.

The Joy Formidable have always sounded much bigger than the stages they inhabit, but now the disparity is starting to seem so criminal that we feel privileged to be crammed against the sweaty roof, craning for eye-space.

Whereas ‘Austere’ once risked being their millstone, and tonight the crowd are chanting the “aah-ahh-ahh-ahh-ah” orgasmic squeals that introduce the song from the first hints, it’s clear they’ve now got a sackful of such treats. Recent single ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ in particular has a compulsively fraught chorus. Playing their first UK show this year – days after their debut album’s release – the band are pumped like a bouncy castle, Ritzy crouches low and mad-eyed, wielding her guitar in come-and-have-a-go fashion while Rhydian beams from the back, seemingly trying to bang his head right off.

‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ reaches its foghorn boom solemnly across the smoke-filled air, a tiny masterpiece of build-and-release, Ritzy’s promises that “a calm day will come” instantly forsworn in a tumultuous surge. A snatch of dialogue from the film Jesus Camp introduces ‘Buoy’ and its classy sci-fi Geffen-era Sonic Youth chops.

The deceptively delicate introduction to ‘The Last Drop’ slowly builds into a torrent in which Ritzy stands firm, howling, “How come it’s all around me?” The pace from there is a mile-a-minute, from the harum-scarum rush of ‘Chapter 2’ and its devastatingly chunky chorus, to the giddy rush of ‘Cradle’, Ritzy pointing and jabbing into the crowd as she declares, “My vicious tongue cradles just one”.

Breathing space comes with ‘9669’, her duet with Rhydian, and skinny fists are raised like antennas to heaven as it ends in a post-rock jam before finding its way into the intro to a climactic ‘Whirring’. Ritzy surrenders her white-blonde head to the crowd below the tiny tinsel stars that hang glinting from their mic stands, a perfect image of the combined delicacy and planet-swallowing punch of this shockingly special band.

Emily Mackay
The Joy Formidable - 'Austere' (NME Exclusive) The Joy Formidable - 'Austere' (NME Exclusive)
Video: The Joy Formidable - 'Austere' (NME Exclusive)

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