REVIEW: The Joy Formidable @ ONCE Ballroom 03/02


Photo by Kristen Lay

Sitting around a campfire on a chilly day surrounded by good company and good music is really something great. It’s even better when that good company and good music is Welsh alternative rock band The Joy Formidable. Thursday night was the last of their seven-day Leave No Trace tour which featured a semi-acoustic performance from the band in a campfire-esque setting, complete with a fake fire pit, teepee, lanterns, and string lights.

Joining The Joy Formidable for two nights was indie folk musician Phoebe Bridgers. Bridgers set the stage with her soft, acoustic songs, accompanied by best friend Harrison Whitford on electric guitar. Though at one point the loud bass of some party music could be heard from next door—which one concert-goer said was from the neighboring church—her captivating voice outshone it. She added a bit of humor in regard to the church in introducing her next song about serial killers, saying “They’re all religious, right?” Before finishing her set, she paid tribute to fellow Bostonites The Lemonheads with her song about frontman Evan Dando’s solo album, Baby I’m Bored.

The Joy Formidable began soon after and opened with “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” from their first album, The Big Roar, delivering it as loud and powerfully as the original version to the sold out crowd. Several other old favorites appeared that night, including “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade,” “A Heavy Abacus,” and “Whirring,” which transitioned into the Welsh version of the song, “Chwyrlio.”

A notable addition to the set was harpist Stephanie Babirak, who played during “Whirring,” “Underneath the Petal,” and “Sleep is Day.”

Among songs from their own discography, they performed a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Lip Service.” Lead singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan credited Elvis Costello as being the performer of her first concert she attended when she was 7 years old.

Despite this being a mainly acoustic show, The Joy Formidable’s performance was anything but reserved as they channeled the same dynamic energy seen at any show they play. This was especially seen during “Blowing Fire” off their latest LP, Hitch. It’s a song which singer/guitarist Rhydian Dafydd and Bryan said they wrote during a time of frustration.

Periodically in between songs, the band engaged in plenty of playful bickering among each other which amused the audience and created a much looser, more casual feeling than at a typical show. This also gave plenty of time for drummer Matt Thomas to get in more than a few words. “This is why you don’t give a mic to the drummer,” Dafydd joked after Thomas said a string of nonsensical things. Dafydd also showed us the kind of “shite” Thomas put on his keyboard effects, with the chorus excerpt from “All Star” by Smash Mouth being the most comical.

The Joy Formidable also had a bit of a surprise for the audience; they gave away a few mugs that they had made. Audience members would win a mug upon answering on-the-spot questions, such as asking the difference between a xylophone and a glockenspiel (answer: the glockenspiel has metal bars, the xylophone doesn’t). The band also recalled their first gig in Boston at the Great Scott five years ago—as well as an unfortunate mishap at Harper’s Ferry—Bryan stating that “Boston is a good city for music.”

During the encore, they opened with a cover of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks Theme,” a delightful surprise for myself and the other Twin Peaks fans in the audience. Two personal favorites of mine, “Cradle” and “Llaw = Wall,” from their first album followed after. Dafydd sang the vocals for “Llaw = Wall” with Bryan joining in at certain parts to create a harmonious unison. Their set ended with “Sleep Is Day” off their newest EP Sleep Is Day, and the band left the stage with a standing ovation.

The Joy Formidable put on a unique performance that exceeded my expectations and which I felt fortunate to have experienced. Though Bryan says they probably won’t do anything like this again, I believe the Leave No Trace tour succeeded in showcasing their talent and versatility. For now, the band says they will be going into hiding to work on the new record, but hopefully it won’t be too long before Boston welcomes them again.

-Kristen Lay