Welsh alternative rockers The Joy Formidable rolled into the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 8th. Currently touring in support of their latest release, Hitch, TJF is partway through a North American tour that will see them hit major cities in the US and Canada as well as an appearance at Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago. This is a band that has quickly risen in the ranks since the release of The Big Roar in 2011 and has ambitiously built their own recording studio and record label – C’mon, Let’s Drift. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them headline their own shows, you may have caught them opening for acts such as Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, and MUSE. After taking a year off to rest, relax, and record Hitch, Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd and Matthew James Thomas are well-rested and ready to hit the road.
Lead singer Ritzy Bryan looks deceptively demur and doll-like but she is anything but. She may wear dresses on stage, keep a tiny goat on her pedal board, and greet the crowd with a sweet hello and blown kisses, but that serves as a deceptive cover for her explosive vocals and guitar-shredding ability. TJF employs an unusual stage set-up for a trio. Instead of being isolated in the back, drummer Matthew James Thomas is down front on stage left facing Ritzy and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Rhydian Dafydd. This allows a lot of interplay between the three over the course of the show, and even gives Rhydian a chance to join Matthew on a percussion break. Unlike their last tour for Wolf’s Law which featured a fair number of videos, the stage for this tour is sparse – only a backdrop. While the videos were nice, relying on music only puts the focus squarely on the band. There was also less banter between songs, which I feel allows the crowd to fully immerse into the music as opposed to having the flow interrupted by chat. There was a good blend of both at this performance.
TJF wasted no time getting started by plowing straight into Greatest, followed by Little Blimp. Perpetual crowd-pleaser The Maw Maw Song made an appearance and was greeted with a roar by the crowd. Despite being a tour for Hitch, only two songs from their latest album were played – Liana and It’s Started. Ritzy and Rhydian’s vocals blend almost effortlessly, and this outing gives Rhydian a chance to sing on his own as well. Watching Matthew pound the drums is always enjoyable and I wonder what is in the tea cup that sits on the floor next to his feet. Could it be that Barry’s Tea is the secret to his spot-on drumming? While the crowd was a bit skewed to favor opening act The Drowners, they quickly warmed to Ritzy and company. It’s very hard to not be pulled into the set by massive guitar riffs and heavy percussion. You ignore the emotional lyrics in these songs at your own peril. I can’t think of any TJF song that can be described as light or pop and the relentlessness of the music carries over into the lyrics. While some characterize their music as indie or alternative rock, to me the combination of lyrics and music puts them into the prog side of rock.
It would be nice if this tour resulted in greater popularity in the United States for The Joy Formidable. Hopefully audiences will grow as the tour continues, especially after their Lollapalooza appearance. Should you go see them? The answer is a resounding yes. And if you catch them afterwards, maybe give them a bottle of red wine, a few packs of cigarettes, and a couple of boxes of Barry’s Tea in appreciation for their hard work. They’ll love you for it.
For More Information: https://www.thejoyformidable.com/
Tour dates: https://www.thejoyformidable.com/tour
Video for The Last Thing on My Mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpWUIRGZwvE
All photos copyright Tara Pitts