The Joy Formidable Trees April 29, 2013
Taking the stage around 9:30, the Joy Formidable came out one at a time, starting with drummer Matt Thomas, who threw his enthusiasm at the crowd before sitting behind a picturesque kit, complete with gong. The kit was positioned on the right edge of the stage and oriented to give him a view of his mates, and the audience a good view of him as performer. After taking up a beat, he was joined by bassist Rhydian Dafydd, who saluted the crowd with beer in hand before strapping on a war-torn Fender Jaguar bass. Any finally out came Bryan, wearing a dress with what at first appears to be a sheriff's badge. Greeting the crowd warmly, she took up the first of what seems like a bottomless supply of Fenders and kicked the band into "Cholla" off the new album.
Joy Formidable's staging is impressive, with a full video backdrop and a wolf's head silhouette that can, when the mood is right, glow or flash with LEDs. There is room to move on the stage, which is important since Bryan will spend a fair amount of time whirling like a dervish when not singing into her light-draped mike. All in all, a great start and a presence that is stage-ready for a much larger room.
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There were some nice little flourishes during the show, as when a reading from Longfellows's The Arrow and the Song started Little Blimp, for me one of the better songs on Wolf's Law.
Still, there wasn't much that felt spontaneous or true. This is a band that is maniacal in its ambition to win you over. Polished, completely calculating, choreographed, with Bryan alternating between a grin that had my jaws aching after a bit, or a surprised "oh" when she tossed off a fuzzy lick on her guitar. The sound was a bit muddy, so on the occasions she tried to whip the crowd up with a bit of between-song banter, no one around me could actually understand a word.
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The set was a bit more than an hour, with the songs pretty balanced between the band's two albums. During the acoustic "Silent Treatment" Dafyyd played a deft guitar while Bryan sang in a voice that, in this more quiet setting sounded surprising like Edie Brickell. The turnout for this Welch power-pop trio was pretty good for a Monday night. The band created some real buzz when they came through town as part of the EDGE Christmas show this past December. January's release of their second album, Wolf's Law, built on that. And a quick search for the band shows countless pictures of the pixie-ish Ritzy Bryan with a blunt haircut obviously tearing up her guitar with gusto. So the room was comfortably full.
All in all, the band was bent on entertaining, more so than actually performing. The goal was achieved, but with all the sweetness and satisfaction of a bite of cotton candy.