The Joy Formidable Last Night at Detroit Bar

Mary Bell/OC Weekly
Joy Formidable at Detroit Bar.
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The Joy Formidable
Sept. 11, 2011
Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa

I feel bad for youngsters whose first experience with live music is UK power trio The Joy Formidable. After watching these guys (and gal) do their thing on the Detroit stage last night, it's clear musical newbies will be demoralized watching all subsequent bands who just can't compare.

 The Joy Formidable, delivered a supremely balanced mix that allowed songstress Ritzy Brian's crystalline voice to perch delicately atop blistering shoegaze guitar fuzz, drop-tuned bass and thunderous percussion. Though both  drummer Matt Thomas and bassist Rhydian Dafydd excel at their respective instruments and shine on individual tunes, it's singer Brian who provides an ineffable magnetism which commands rapt attention. 

Beginning with the opening number "A Heavy Abacus," Brian rapidly strummed individual strings to draw out the tension while looking into the crowd, her blue eyes maniacally wide. She mouthed the words "Are you ready?" before the song erupted with thunderous percussion and bass. Throughout the set she would glide back and forth across stage her shoulders dipping and swaying with movements both mechanically jerky and oddly graceful. It was as if she were attached to the track of a rotating carnival ride. 

Her expressive face rapidly channelled multiple characters--some moments saw her smiling easily, others saw her staring through people in the audience like an automaton and still others saw her bent backwards unnaturally as if possessed  by a demon, strumming furiously--eyes closed, her mouth agape. Though she brought an exceptionally theatrical aura to the performance, it didn't overshadow her obvious comfort with the guitar. And despite the raw intensity of the performance, the band played like a well-oiled machine, delivering ferociously intense music. 

Their sound hearkens back to the '80s and the swirly guitar fuzz of indie pioneers like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain.  But last night the Joy Formidable demonstrated its ability to outdo such seminal acts as My Bloody Valentine (IMHO) who were known for their amorphous droning vocals, by delivering imminently hummable melodies. During the song "Cradle" Brian's vocals took on the cadence of a high school Cheer Squad--but thanks to the crunchy guitar work it was clearly a squad where everybody smoked. 

 The show highlight came at the end of the set during the song "Whirring," which included a crescendo of moaning guitar speakers, machine gun speed double bass and a tempo change that threatened to collapse the building. Here we saw drummer Thomas behind a blur of sticks and flailing hair as Brian fell to the floor and bashed her axe against the ground to generate feedback. Then in the blink of an eye, she blew the crowd a kiss and disappeared. 

A band that plays well and leaves on a high note, who can compare these days?

The Crowd: Detroit Bar was packed to the rafters. I've seen this place less crowded on a Friday night. Lots of college-aged hipsters in flannels and fedoras. But disturbingly there was a quite a cavalcade of older gentlemen rocking bald and gray pates--some standing directly in front of the stage. Creepy.

The Set List:

A Heavy Abacus
Greyhounds in the Slips
The Greatest Light is In The Shade

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Its a 21 and older bar. Why the age concern? What well you be doing in 10 or 20 years? Pretty sure you well not be seeing Brandon at any good gigs then. Brandons not creep and he wont get old. Was this his first night out? Why bring up MBV and J&tMC? They are old!  BF is that as deep as your music knowledge goes? The Joy Formidable remind me more of Foam or the Charlottes. 


Re: "college-aged hipsters in flannels and fedoras. But disturbingly there was a quite a cavalcade of older gentlemen rocking bald and gray pates--some standing directly in front of the stage. Creepy."  Obviously this writer is very immature and insecure both in there age and station in life as well as sexual maturity.  Us "older" types who aren't cool enough anymore to wear the flannels that we wore when we saw Nirvana for 5$ at Spanky's and Bogarts (oh b4 your time, sorry to mention the past) were TAPING video and audio of the show.  Ritzy has been a bootlegger with her father since a tiny tot and doesn't mind, why should anyone else?  Is it creepy that she was inspired to play by bootlegging with her own father as a child at shows.  If you want a good tape and video that's decent enough to watch again you need to be down front or have a tripod and zoom lenses in back, so we were down front..."old" friends stick together, not so we can jerk off in the front row like the perverts you imagine us to be.  I know a few people who I think work for OC Weekly or moved on editor somwhere in the OC.  I will forward this review along to them so they can attach it to your resume once your fired from OC weekly for being an immature twit of a writer.  PS, when I was a young hipster, grey hair and bald guys meant you were witnessing a show of historical significance, and such a crowd showed great honor and respect to the band that the geezer would leave their wife and kids on a worknight for a rare night out with the few old friends they still keep up with.  Advice: Next time try thinking before you write, give it some time to reflect, bounce it off a friend or parent to check it for balance and immaturity, then do a final edit.


I'm 37, male, and I shave my head. I see a lot of live music, because I love it.  I read your review, and there seems to be a strong suggestion that I stay home.  This is not the first time you have made such a suggestion.   Am I not allowed to attend concerts any more because I'm considered creepy?  Should I just shut myself in my house and wait to die?


Second to none in my love for MBV here (hey, I'm biased!) but agreed that for sheer volume alone that rivalled the 1992 shows they did -- and Ritzy as a frontwoman kills compared to Kevin and Bilinda's approach.  (In re: older guys -- well, I'm on the verge myself in ways but my girlfriend was wishing flaming hot death on one of those types in particular, thanks to the graceless way he crushed her foot while working his way forward through the crowd.)

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