The Joy Formidable, Vile Bodies
Miss Fliss 09/06/2009
We're enveloped in a big bubble of sound that breaks and reforms over and over. Just as we're being easefully floated heavenwards, a guitar will puncture our walls, send us crashing. It's that build up that the Cambridge crowd craves tonight, readying themselves as they are to move to the music. We're crammed into the Portland's tiny back room, and there's a mosh pit in danger of dragging us all into its rhythmic mania. So enlivened and inspired by Joy Formidable are one group of lads that the glitterball dangling from the ceiling gets punched (in good spirits).
There's something satisfying in seeing a trio rip through songs, making them sound powered enough to have been created by a four or five strong collective. Ritzy (what a glitzy name) plays with aplomb a prettily stencilled Fender, the noise is oceanic fantastic, and ethereal yet empowering vocals drift then roar from her diminutive frame; this is complemented by thrumming bass from her beau, and a barely visible drummer (hidden way in a corner) clatters away. Whilst it's easy to make front woman Ritzy the star of the show (about time we had some fascinating and talented women in rock in bands that are causing a buzz), The Joy Formidable are very much a cohesive whole, a finely matched unit. Maybe music will get a face, a personality, a meaning again, because Joy Formidable are certainly seismic in effect on various necessary levels.
What really resonates and hangs clear (despite all the electric guitar fuzz chaos) is that most people at this sold-out gig are delighting in the sonic disarray, the meshes of pedal effects, and the kicking-into-action, great thudding heavyweight choruses good enough to jump up in the air to. Those aren't your traditional choruses, but there's a pure pop hedonism strutting about amidst the undertow of delay/fuzz tones.
For me, though, it's the rarer gentle moments spliced in between that make my head and heart soar with elation. When all that's present are a few hushed, picked strings and Ritzy's considered singing that swells with heartfelt effect, I'm transfixed. Her transition to X-Ray Spex style vocal bluster and the marriage of gusty rock with it is not unwelcome, but I would like to see a song stay quiet and be beautiful in its intimacy; here Joy Formidable could really shine.
But, shine they do, amidst the rousing loud tidal waves, there are lush keys and a My Bloody Valentine rush ('This is better/you're just a memory now', Ritzy intones achingly). The band come into their own towards the end of the gig with the likes of The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade. They had dispersed the singles Whirring and Cradle in the opening numbers to the crowd's delight ('You rock!' a heckler yells, and gets unanimous cheers), but the band choose wisely to save Austere till the last. The crucial leading bass and 'Oh-oh-oh-oh' (described as sounding like 'assorted bird calls' by my boyfriend!) vocals before the coruscating guitars crash forth, and make it a killer closer. And with that we're off, convinced and grateful that indie rock has a new paradigm.