The Joy Formidable

That they take a moment during their set to wish one of their biggest fans a Happy 71st Birthday, is a testament to incredibly varied nature of The Joy Formidable’s fan base. The Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall was full of fans of all ages, gathered to see the explosive part-welsh three piece who are touring in support of Wolf’s Law, their recently released second album. The album is kind of a mixed bag with its incredible highlights unfortunately being tarred by some skippable pace killing filler. But many albums with a similarly wide scope encounter the same problems, and Wolf’s Law still feels like a success, because it’s refreshing for an artist in the shape of a rock band to have the balls to aim so big. The assorted turn out shows they are well on their way to becoming a band who are just as gigantic as their volatile songs.

As a live band The Joy Formidable shed album lowlights and go hell or broke with their supercharged breakdown laden songs. They’ve honed their live chops as the support act for several giant arena level bands, giving them repeated tastes of, and fueling their appetite for, a highest level of success. The arena exposure seems to have awarded the band with a quiet confidence whilst performing. Frontwoman Ritzy Bryan conveys a perfect balance between self-seriousness and awareness as she zigzags around the stage and belts out her mammoth choruses. She knows when to be subtle and when to be larger than life, and demonstrates an embracement of the lovably dumb theatrics and guitar heroics of rock music.

They bring a learned arena rock fury to the comparatively modest Wulfrun Hall and almost immediately blow the roof off with the soaring chorus and unstable guitar riffs of their set opener “Cholla”, and encourage a sing along with the consciously designed crowd chants of “Austere”, from their 2011 debut album The Big Roar. Rhydian Dafydd’s fuzzy bass riff explodes with the help of a giant gong crash from drummer Matt Thomas and flashing guitar line from Ritzy, as the song rips open with frisson inducing hysteria.

Nothing quite says “We want to play arena rock” like a drummer with a gong and chimes, and Thomas beats the holy hell out of his front stage left drum kit for the entirety of their set. Becoming their chaotic driving force through Wolf’s Law opener and highlight “This Ladder Is Ours”, as Ritzy sung the thrillingly rushed vocal melodies of its excellent chorus. She moves around the stage with a bouncy energy and looks out at the crowd with a fun mischievous stare. There’s never any degree of intensity about her, she instead channels her aggression through her instrument and gives nothing but love to her audience. The band also don’t appear to be too cool for school, and don’t scoff at a group of fans who are wielding inflatable guitars above their heads, and dismiss and playfully mock the duelling crowd shouts of “BASS SOLO! DRUM SOLO!”. “I play Bass and even I don’t want to hear a bass solo”, says Dafydd.

After leading a sing along during the kinetic outro of “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade”, and knocking her microphone stand over as she blasted through an extended version of “Cradle”, that seemed like it had a 50 megaton breakdown, Ritzy handed the guitar lead over to Dafydd for “Silent Treatment”. An acoustic ballad that gives their propulsive set a brief moment of pause. She took back the lead with the intergalactic synth guitar solos of “Maw Maw Song”, which really came to life in a live setting, highlighted by its dramatic glam rock intro and motorik drum beat during the verses. They close out their main set with the epileptic guitar of “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie”, which concludes with an impossibly increasing racing tempo that somehow never quite falls apart as it rockets towards infinity.

When they return for their encores only one song is on people’s minds, but they open by dedicating a version of “Bats” to their 71 year old fan, “This is ‘Bats’ for an old bat” says Ritzy. After a blitzing “Forest Serenade” the anticipation for their beloved “Whirring” is at a fever pitch, and the gentle opening piano chords of “Wolf’s Law” are greeted by a noticeable feeling of tedium within the crowd as they lose patience and hope that the night isn’t a giant anti-climax. The hidden title track itself builds to a satisfying dizzying crescendo, but the band knows their audience and as they reach full volume during the song’s conclusion they erupt into “Whirring”.

The song is about as perfect as a dazzling crowd rousing closer gets, with its goliath sing along chorus, furious double bass drum lead, and stacked crash endings. It finally causes the band’s energy to fully spark within the crowd, and riles the front rows into a frenzy. The band gallop through it with wide grins on their faces, always teasing and delivering yet another crash ending. Amongst the madness Ritzy went to the barrier and allowed her fans to paw at her and her Stratocaster, before running back to the stage and triumphantly standing atop the drum kit for a final (for real this time) crash ending that laid waste to the Wulfrun Hall.

The majority of The Joy Formidable’s songs use this same structure, and you know the breakdown is coming, but it’s still an invigorating adrenaline rush every time. When their massive songs peak and detonate it’s easy to see why their audience is so varied, and it makes you wish we had more bands who aim for the skies.