Live: The Joy Formidable Soothe Alt-Rock Die-Hards At Bowery Ballroom

ritzy joy formidable.jpg
Ritzy Bryan's famous cat not pictured, thankfully. Pics by Laureen Krawse.
The Joy Formidable/Grouplove
Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, November 16

Better than: At least 60 percent of the Shrieks of the Week.

Welsh power trio the Joy Formidable is one of those bands that might get lost among the Sufjan Beat-hungry masses, as they're just a newish act with an across-the-pond pedigree and a couple records under their belts -- there's no hyperactive Twitter feed, or feuds with other artists, or famous cat, or seedy backstory.

Actually, strike the "just" from that last sentence. As the band showed last night, amped-to-the-hilt words, chords, loops, and drums -- not to mention singalong-ready songs, a frontwoman who can command an audience with a crook of her finger, and the band's unrelenting command of their instruments -- is still more than enough to win over a crowd, even in these unrelentingly media-saturated times.

Last night kicked off with the band's 2009 single "Cradle," a powerful blast of guitar pop that pulls together the best bits of the alt-rock boom -- wordless vocalizing, chiming yet forceful guitars, a confident female voice leading its charge -- and arranges them into an endlessly replayable bit of bluster. And yes, at times the show felt as if WLIR, the Long Island alt-rock stalwart's radio station of choice until its untimely demise in 2004, had come back from the dead for 40 minutes to soothe its former fans' anxieties about modern living. (It was hard to not wonder how much of the crowd were one-time listeners of that storied station, given the references to Jericho and Huntington thrown around by some of the people clustered up front.)

The band barreled through its skimpy catalog in a flash, a highlight being the new single "I Don't Want to See You Like This." "See" is one of the band's best offerings yet, a breakup song that looks forward to the other side of heartache, with racing guitars and thundering drums that seem engineered to snap both parts of the still-attached couple out of their sad state. It was also switched up in such a way that revealed the intricate interplay between frontwoman/guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer Matt Thomas -- as a unit, they bounce off each other with the ease of a group that's been playing together since they were in primary school.

From the moment she took the stage, though, Bryan was the star, playing that role to the hilt, tilting over the pogoing crowd with her axe in hand as though on the verge of leaping in with everyone, instructing the crowd to quiet down on the verses of the new slow-build lament "Anemone," and berating herself for being too chatty between songs. Her charisma was lapped up by the audience, who probably would have been content to hear every story she had to tell.

The 10-song set ended with a feedback-freakout jam that simultaneously sent the crowd into rapture and put to rest the idea of "having to do an encore" that trips up so many lesser acts. Which shouldn't surprise, really, as this is a band that knows how to wring just the right amount of intensity from minimal ingredients. Case in point: By the time Bryan, Dafydd, and Thomas had finished extracting as much noise as they could from all the amps and instruments on their stage, the crowd was just as spent as the speakers, wearing weary grins and sweat-soaked clothes.

Critical bias: The Joy Formidable is on the verge of enjoying back-to-back placement on my "top two singles of the year" list.

Overheard: Who was the jerk who screamed out "Let's go Knicks!" at the coda of "I Don't Want To See You Like This"? Was that the same person who screamed for "Free Bird" during the set by the seemingly Peach Pit After Dark-plucked opening act Grouplove?

Random notebook dump: If you look closely at my steno pad you'll see more pockmarks than you will ink marks, because I couldn't stop drumming along with Thomas' rapidfire beats. (Or trying to, anyway.)

Setlist:
Cradle
The Magnifying Glass
I Don't Want To See You Like This
The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade
Austere
Ostrich
Greyhounds in the Slips
Anemone
The Last Drop
Whirring

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Grouplove, taking the night off from the Peach Pit


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