Following the January release of their second album Wolf's Law and recent appearances at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, Welsh power trio The Joy Formidable arrived in Chicago Tuesday night for ninety minutes of unpredictability and unbridled rock emotion...
I've said it many times but it bears repeating: Rock is at its best when it is unpredictable.
Tuesday night at the Vic, The Joy Formidable set up the stage in an interesting fashion with drums set back a bit and all the way to the right side of the stage, leaving ample room on a stage that, aside from instruments, a Christmas light wrapped microphone stand and one video screen, was refreshingly free of the rock trappings that often accompany a band making the leap from small clubs to larger venues in preparation for the summer festival season (in addition to outdoor soirees like the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, the band is scheduled to return to Chicago for the Taste of Randolph in June).
And frontwoman Ritzy Bryan was by no means afraid to explore that space.
Jettisoning across the stage from beginning to end, Bryan was something to behold as she rocked with reckless abandon, prodding her bandmates at times in the process (drummer Matt Thomas was a frequent foil as she took nearly every opportunity to kick his kit or hammer a cymbal with her guitar as she passed).
Tuesday night, the band hit on a mix of songs from both of their albums opening with "Cholla" from the aforementioned Wolf's Law, following that with "Austere" from their aptly titled 2011 full length debut The Big Roar. From there it was on to the driving guitar of the new single "This Ladder is Ours."
The pace for the evening was set and immediately it was impressive just how much sound this band gets from only three players. This show was loud and not just loud for the sake of being loud. In the fairly intimate confines of a venue like the Vic, it was clear Tuesday just what an important role each member plays in The Joy Formidable's sound, the consummate power trio.
"The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie" closed the main set bordering at times on metal with a focus on the incredible drumming of Matthew Thomas and guitar playing prowess of Bryan. Thomas's fills were energetic, continuing virtually nonstop over the duration of one of the evening's longest songs, and Bryan emitted a sonic wave of guitar so wall of sound-like that it was hard to believe only one person was responsible for creating it.
"Wolf's Law" slowed things down midway through the encore, albeit briefly, focusing not on buzzsaw guitar but on delicate vocals over keyboard accompaniment. The band's first and biggest hit "Whirring," however, picked the pace back up as Bryan left the stage joining the crowd on the Vic floor for shenanigans before throwing her guitar from the floor back onto the stage and destroying two mic stands. Maybe it happens every night but it felt spontaneous and was one of the more "rock" moments I've seen live in 2013.
It will be interesting to see where this band emerges following a summer festival season that has the potential to expose their music to an even wider audience. In the past two years, they've moved from a venue like Metro to the Vic and Tuesday's set proved they could be one of the few young rock bands out there with the content and the attitude necessary to fill bigger venues... so I'll be curious to see where their next headlining tour pits them here.
Kitten opened Tuesday's show with an unexpectedly great set that reminded me of a more punk oriented version of the goth rock of a band like Siouxsie & The Banshees (even hints of shoegazer as an influence struck me at times during the half hour set).
Songwriter and vocalist Chloe Chaidez (a mere seventeen from what I'm told) was outstanding, giving The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan a serious, if not surprising, run for her money as best frontwoman of the evening. Jumping from the drum riser, sitting on the edge of the stage flirting with the fans up front and scaling the stacks of amps to deliver her vocals from a perch probably twelve or fifteen feet above the floor, Chaidez was dynamic and Kitten is another band to watch in 2013.
- Jim Ryan
(Details on upcoming Chicagoland appearances by The Joy Formidable and Kitten after the jump)
*** Catch The Joy Formidable live at The Taste of Randolph (June 14-16th)
*** Catch Kitten opening for Paramore on Thursday, May 9th at Chicago Theatre
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