The Joy Formidable @ Théatre Fairmount – 18th June 2016

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For some reason or other, big Welsh bands never seem to give much love to North America, or at least, Montreal. Bands such as Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics, arena-fillers across the pond, rarely venture over here, and if they do, it’s a token NY-LA pair of shows, and that’s it. Indeed, in the 8 1/2 years I’ve lived here in Montreal, Stereophonics are the only band to even plan a visit here, at Corona in 2013, before that show was cancelled at the last minute, never to be rescheduled.

By contrast, since their first visit here in 2010 with an incendiary set at Green Room (sorry, bad choice of words…that venue burned down shortly afterwards…), compatriots The Joy Formidable have been regular visitors, with an Osheaga slot in 2011, another headline show at S.A.T. in 2012, and a set at the MRCY Festival in Laval just last September (2015). Now that’s more like it! Manic Street Preachers et al, take note…

The Joy Formidable are back in town tonight at Théatre Fairmount, promoting their third full-length Hitch; indeed, frontwoman Ritzy Bryan describes tonights show as another album release party!

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As the house music fades out around 8:30, a traditional Irish jig begins to play over the PA system, and drummer Matt Thomas bounds out of the dressing room and begins bouncing throughout the crowd, shouting “let’s have it!!!” as he goes, before climbing onto the stage to be joined by Ritzy and bassist Rhydian Dafydd and launching into the classic Cradle from 2011 debut The Big Roar, with Ritzy and Rhydian bounding around the stage full of energy, reminiscent of The Subways show back in April of this year, before blasting into Blimp from 2013 sophomore album Wolf’s Law.

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I Don’t Want To See You Like This follows a similar ferocious pattern, with additional “woo hoo” calls thrown in, before Ritzy goes back to Matt’s introductory Irish jig, mentioning how that was a first, and probably a last! Thumping drums lead into Passerby, with more insane riffs and a killer solo from Ritzy. We get a moment to catch our breath with the laid-back piano-led intro to Wolf’s Law, which Ritzy sings in almost ballad-fashion, before the song explodes into life midway through. Rhydian begins to play a suitably reggae-dub bassline to begin The Last Thing On My Mind, before this too erupts in a flurry of strobe lights, riffs, and an extended outro.

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Silent Treatment was next, and was a standout moment from the set. Backed by just the acoustic guitar of Rhydian, Ritzy’s vocals, often a little buried under the heaviness of their catalogue, really get the chance to shine through, and shine they do. At times, she sounds almost angelic! Such an endearing vocal performance is only added to by the cute Welsh accent that follows in the between-song banter, though the banter content is slightly less angelic, as the band relate various drinking shenanigans from the tour. A particularly disgusting-sounding highlight was a drink called a Bushwhacker that they had in Florida, consisting of mint ice cream in liquor; the entire crowd groans at that description! Matt jokes that that’s the best reaction they’ve had all night!

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The set concludes with The Leopard And The Lung, another slow-intro-explosive-outro number, this time led by Rhydian, and then the band departs the stage briefly before returning for a 4-song encore. Radio Of Lips kicks things off, a new song which fits seamlessly into the band’s catalogue, followed by Liana, with its driving funky bassline getting everyone moving again once more. The band then reminisce about their first EP, 2008’s A Balloon Called Moaning, with its fold-out sleeves…to which one guy in the crowd responds “it didn’t fit on the shelf!” The band laughs at that; evidently they’ve heard that complaint before! They then complete that walk down memory lane by playing Ostrich, the closing track from that EP, in emphatic manner.

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The night finishes with the classic Whirring, and the band are spontaneously joined by a random guy from the crowd who hops onstage and dances around with the band, hitting bass strings and bashing cymbals, but the band don’t seem to mind; rather, they laugh along with him the whole time. As the stage invader leaves, the song mutates into a gargantuan conclusion, with the band riffing off each other, slowing down and speeding up the song, before the random guy jumps back on stage. As the band creates a wall of noise to conclude the song, Rhydian hands the random guy his Bass to join in the grand finale, before the song gradually slows and fades out. Random guy gets hugs from all the band, and then all depart the stage after an immense 90 minute set, to rapturous applause. It’s quite clear that Montreal isn’t getting tired of the band’s solid, exhilarating live experience; undoubtedly, it remains both formidable, and a joy!

Set List
Cradle
Little Blimp
I Don’t Want To See You Like This
Passerby
Wolf’s Law
The Last Thing On My Mind
This Ladder Is Ours
Silent Treatment
The Leopard And The Lung

Radio Of Lips
Liana
Ostrich
Whirring

Review & photos – Simon Williams

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