The Joy Formidable at First Avenue, 4/3/13

The Joy Formidable at First Avenue, 4/3/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

The Joy Formidable with Guards and Kitten
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

First Avenue sure knows how to put on a birthday party. Whether by design or whether by coincidence, Welsh band the Joy Formidable was the perfect group to lead that party into a frenzy that included cake, drunken shirtless men, and stage diving. On the heels of their latest album, Wolf's Law, the band has grown up and grown a lot louder than the last time they were in Minneapolis.

See Also:
The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan: Don't compare us to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Slideshow: The Joy Formidable at First Avenue's 43rd Birthday

Lights off, the crowd cheered as the band walked up the stairs to a stage lit only by a cutout wolf head and blasted out the perfect balance between melody and distorted ambiance with "Cholla." While bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas are the backing bone of the band, all eyes are on lead singer Ritzy Bryan. Don't let the floral dress fool you into thinking that she's going to play acoustic rock that deals with feelings; Ritzy lets out all of those emotions, but in a fierce direction that make you scared and aware of your own at the same time. Her voice is clear and strong and cuts through the enormous sound of the band, blending perfectly with Dafydd's subtle falsetto.

The Joy Formidable at First Avenue, 4/3/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

She said to the crowd, "It's good to see you, too. I think we're gonna have a fun night; it's going to be boisterous." Surprisingly early in the show, the band brought out their latest single "This Ladder Is Ours." The piece opens with quiet strings before exploding into crunchy guitar riffs and driving drums that has become the band's signature sound on the new album. "The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade" is a ballad released in the form of a rock song telling of dreams with the perfectly written line "This dream is, this dream is, this dream is, in a telescope now."

The band has a way of making everything epic, as if this is your last night on earth and this is where you want to be. Combining a catchy melody and anthemic chords like in "Cradle" and "While the Flies" has taken to be the band's signature sound and proven a successful equation. The highlight of the evening, though, was not one of the boisterous songs that was promised by Ritzy, but rather when it was slowed down for "Silent Treatment." The song is an emotional piece that showcases Bryan's lovely voice, but more importantly, shows her as someone who is not just fierce but also vulnerable.

Lulled into a false security blanket, the band immediately led into "Maw Maw Song" that starts off with a bang and scares you out of your reverie. The driving song is what Ritzy means when she says the band has taken a darker turn with Wolf's Law, with its meandering guitars and lyrics. "The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie" is the opener for the band's debut album, but the eight minute piece was the closer for their regular set -- the perfect choice to keep you wanting more.
Leading into their encore, "Forest Serenade" is another hidden gem that features Ritzy's soaring vocals and almost orchestral guitars followed quickly by "Wolf's Law." The band's most famous single "Whirring" was saved for last and with good reason. The song was stretched out to almost ten minutes -- and a state of being as intense as a Coen brothers' movie. Opening with Ritzy's guitar riffs, "Whirring" builds and pulls back through verse and chorus. Bryan rocks so hard, she even knocks over her mic stand and throughout the extended jam session, picks up the mic and asks, "Does this still work?" They were not done yet, though. She brings her guitar into the crowd and rocks out for a few moments amongst the shirtless fans. Feeling in the moment, Dafydd takes a running leap off the stage into the crowd while Ritzy lines up for the big finish, taking off her guitar, giving it one last shake, and tossing it on the stage. 

The Joy Formidable at First Avenue, 4/3/13
The Joy Formidable at First Avenue, 4/3/13
Photos by Tony Nelson

Ritzy has resisted the confines of being compared to other bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but has it ever crossed her mind that if young girls ever saw her perform, they would want to be compared to her?

Critic's bias: An intense, but amazing show.

The crowd: An interesting mix. There was quite a bit of older folks combined with shirtless frat boys.

Overheard in the crowd: Not much due to it being so loud. Opening band Kitten's set seemed extra loud, but they did play "Purple Rain" in honor of it being First Ave.'s forty-third birthday.

Random notebook dump: There was free birthday cake!

Random notebook dump 2: I forgot my notebook at home and ended up using napkins for my notes. As I was waiting for Guards to take the stage, a drunk gentleman walked over to my table, looked at me, grabbed my napkin, crumpled it up, and stuffed it in his pocket. Thanks, man. I didn't need those notes at all.


This Ladder is Ours
The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
Little Blimp
While the Flies
Silent Treatment
Maw Maw Song
I Don't Want to See You Like This
The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie

Forest Serenade
Wolf's Law

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