“You’re fucking vocal. I like it.”The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan (to the crowd, with a smile)

A few nights ago, Welsh rock trio The Joy Formidable continued the US tour for their recent Hitch (2016) in San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall.

Manchester’s Everything Everything opened up the evening with their catchy, bright pop-rock sound, their own set mainly featuring songs off of their new album Get to Heaven (2016). From the first song, “Blast Doors,” it was evident that the majority of the audience were big fans. The band’s high-level energy was reciprocated by the waves of people enthusiastically dancing along and shouting the lyrics in an impressively synchronized exchange with lead singer Jonathan Higgs. They closed their portion with a cathartic performance of “No Reptiles” and the upbeat “Distant Past” which served as a reprieve from the emotional weight of the previous song.

And then the lights dimmed, causing a hush to fall over the crowd. Suddenly, four familiar notes rang throughout the theater and the audience screamed in excitement. The band ascended the stage: Matthew Thomas (drums, percussion) on stage-left, Rhydian Dafydd (bass, backing vocals) on stage-right, and Ritzy Bryan (lead vocals, guitar) front and center. After exchanging glances with each other, Thomas executed a thundering drum fill that crashed into The Joy Formidable’s first song, “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade,” off EP A Balloon Called Moaning (2008). The explosion of pure noise that followed enveloped the crowd in this fan favorite, entrancing them into one body of movement, head-banging along to the pounding beat.

After the second song, “Cradle,” someone (hopefully) jokingly called out, “Play a cover,” to which Bryan responded, “Did someone just say play a cover?” while the on-lookers laughed. “We don’t play covers,” she continued, “we don’t do weddings. Maybe it’d be fun. I fucking doubt it though.” The same comedian repeated his demand for a cover after the next song, “I Don’t Wanna See You Like This” (from their first album) to which Bryan rapidly jested back, “Still fucking at it? You better watch out,” causing even more laughter.

Following a performance of “Wolf’s Law,” Bryan introduced “The Last Thing On My Mind” as a song celebrating female desire and sexual liberation. She addressed the taboo of women expressing their sexuality, with the media acting like “women don’t watch porn or enjoy the male form,” after which she added with a cheeky smile, “Well I do.”

A little later, “Silent Treatment” served as an electric-acoustic lull between Dafydd and Bryan, creating an enchantingly intimate atmosphere that resonated across the room. “Maw Maw Song” picked the energy back up with its powerful chorus of heavy guitar riffs that had everyone jumping, especially at the end when the three band members interacted in a stunning flurry of intense joint-soloing.

For their finale, Dafydd and Bryan came out into the crowd and performed an acoustic version of “The Brook.” They closed out the show on a nostalgic, satisfying note with “This Ladder Is Ours,” rock ballad “Liana,” and another classic, “Whirring.”

The Joy Formidable display exceptional talent in their musicianship, the power behind their complex lyricism, and the connection with each other and their audience through performance. Their set last Wednesday was an explosive mix of the old, the new, and the in-between, making the show perfect for old fans and new fans alike.

(More information about this music video in Ritzy Bryan’s lovely article here.)

Article by Vivian Chen
Photos by Vivian Chen and Tyler Lob

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