People often say to live life with no regrets. There’s no point in clinging to missed opportunities or mistakes in your past. Live in the present, not the past. Yada yada. We’ve heard it all before a million times, but I’ll tell you, when it comes to missed concerts, I have tons of regrets. Money, timing, ignorance; all of these have played parts in these missed concert blues, but none was probably as frustrating and disappointing to me than November 11, 2011, the day I got the chance to see Foo Fighters live at the Verizon Center in DC. What I knew was going to be an unbelievable concert was only made sweeter by the fact that I would get the chance to see The Joy Formidable open the show (along with Social Distortion).
The Joy Formidable, IO Echo, Fort Lean
Saturday, May 11 at The National
People often say to live life with no regrets. There’s no point in clinging to missed opportunities or mistakes in your past. Live in the present, not the past. Yada yada. We’ve heard it all before a million times, but I’ll tell you, when it comes to missed concerts, I have tons of regrets. Money, timing, ignorance; all of these have played parts in these missed concert blues, but none was probably as frustrating and disappointing to me than November 11, 2011, the day I got the chance to see Foo Fighters live at the Verizon Center in DC. What I knew was going to be an unbelievable concert was only made sweeter by the fact that I would get the chance to see The Joy Formidable open the show (along with Social Distortion). I had gotten my hands on the band’s debut album, The Big Roar, at the beginning of the year and I was excited (to say the least) to see the band translate that boisterous sound into the Verizon Center. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. I missed out on both openers due to unbelievable traffic on I-95 (thank you again, NoVA). Dejected, I still had an amazing time that night watching the Foos, but I left the arena with a big sense of regret over missing the Welsh trio open the night. One of the great things about life though happened to me this past Saturday night: a second chance. Well…technically a fourth chance since I couldn’t go see them in DC in March & November of 2012, but “second chance” just sounds better.
Almost two years to the date removed from their debut album, The Joy Formidable released their sophomore album, Wolf’s Law, to very strong reviews–and deservedly so. The album might get overlooked come December time as publications release “Best Of 2013” lists, but it is easily among the top ten best albums of the year thus far and one everyone should be listening to. Behind that new album, the band embarked on a non-stop tour starting in January that ended on Saturday, May 12, 2013 in our very hometown at The National. The band let the audience know this too, and they sure let The National feel as if they left absolutely everything on the stage in what was a truly unforgettable experience. But let’s start with the openers…
Fort Lean, an indie rock quintet from Brooklyn, opened the show up with an eight song set featuring songs taken mostly from their two EPs: the self-titled Fort Lean (released in April 2011) and Change Your Name (released in November 2012). The indie band is reminiscent of Florida’s Surfer Blood with a more relaxed urgency to their songs, though they did remind me of other acts. While frontman Keenan Mitchell had shades of Julian Casabalancas during each song, lead guitarist Zach Fried dressed in a manner akin to Tom Morello while playing in a manner slightly similar to the surf rock melodies Joey Santiago used in the Pixies. It was an interesting mix. While Mitchell set the tone of the set with his energy and confidence, the ability of the band to follow the strong lead of drummer Sam Ubl made for a very tight sound. They definitely had the poise of a polished veteran group, which a lot of established acts lack these days. The only negative on the band is that they need a better identity to set them apart from the rest of the post-2005 indie bands. That seems like it will come with time, as they already have the ability and hold themselves like it; they’re just waiting for that truly big song to get them that recognition.
IO Echo followed next, and I was absolutely floored. I had heard from multiple people not to miss this band from Los Angeles, but I never got around to listening to their stuff. When they came out with the first notes of their opening song “Shanghai Girls,” I was literally awe-struck by it all. We’ll get to the music in a second, but visually, this was a band that I probably will never forget seeing. With strobe lights behind dual Asian changing partitions, it was a perfect backdrop for lead singer Ionna Gika to rave in front of, decked out in a variation of a kimono dress. The band’s seven-song set delivered very strongly while making your brain go through a whole gamut of influences. A man in front of me told his friend it’s shoegaze meets St. Vincent; the couple behind me talked about how it might not be minimalist enough to be slowcore, but it’s got to be slowcore; my wife declared how it was like watching an extremely dark Florence + The Machine; and I was way too hung up on how much their song “Doorway” reminded me of “Subway Song” by The Cure. Everyone wanted to perfectly describe the band, but couldn’t. In fact, we were more and more bewildered by each song. Whether we liked it or not, everyone in the venue was in a hypnotic daze during IO Echo’s set of harrowing vocals & trance-inducing guitar rhythms. Gika contorted around the stage in front of the strobe lights like a true rock and roll goddess, while guitarist Michael Edelstein swayed back and forth like an extension of the music. How you know an opening band absolutely crushed it? Seeing people pull out their phones immediately for more information on the band. I was definitely one of them and made a mental note to digest their recent debut album, Ministry Of Love, as quickly as possible. You should probably get on that too.
Two openers down and it was time for the main act: The Joy Formidable. After seeing IO Echo, and just knowing the band’s music, I was expecting another set full of mystique, but was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite. The Welsh power trio of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer Matthew James Thomas barreled onto the stage with a buoyant energy that made the opening song, “Cholla,” just pure fun rock music. Ritzy’s lovable charm came out within mere seconds of starting the song and you could see a band not caught up in anything except the love of playing their music and connecting with a crowd. Behind a wolf’s head emblem that danced to each song with LED lights, a movie backdrop did the talking and handled the mystique for the band as it showed everything from classic movie clips to birds breaking out of eggs. A poem but that was less about mystique and more about . A reading of “The Arrow and The Song” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow introduced “Little Blimps,” and it complimented the song’s meaning. However, while the poem is a moral to be learned, the song itself is a declaration of pure confidence. Both the poem reading and movie backdrop did their job as it seemed the band was less concerned with introducing songs and much more wrapped up in shedding loads of energy like they were ready to combust.
Throughout their set, you couldn’t help but fall in love with Ritzy Bryan. She may be the most lovable woman in rock music today and she came across like the girl next door who you absolutely adored… but with the power to melt your face straight off by rocking out. The other two members of the trio delivered just as strongly. Armed with more than enough to bang on, including a gong behind him (trust me, it got used a lot), Thomas hit the cadence of each song with a fury, like he was going to pull a Keith Moon at any time and just start trashing the place. The hidden gem of the band had to be bassist Dafydd, though. Where can we start on him? For starters, how about a bassist rocking the acoustic guitar during “Silent Treatment” better than most lead guitarists can? As Ritzy took a break from guitar, crooning us a nice change of pace, Dafydd picked away, leaving me wondering if he’s adding more guitar work in the studio than we know. On top of that, his use of back-up vocals to add depth to the songs was a huge hit. If you’re confused, then listen around the eight second mark of “Cholla” to understand. He did that live, people. Vocally. He was all over a good chunk of the band’s set with back-up vocals that would do anything from accompany Ritzy to adding another layer to the song. Hearing the beginning to “Tendons” live was absolutely nuts, and the best use of that auxiliary back-up vocals. It was crazy to see a power trio bring an audibly stunning album to life with no backing musicians and minimal synthesizers. There have been very few power trios in rock history that are this musically brash and still able to pull it off live by themselves. Considering that even Nirvana was adding Pat Smear on second guitar towards the end of their run, that’s a very illustrious group to belong to.
The band ended their eleven-song set with “The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie” (a very underrated song) and an intense jam session, before leaving the stage for a quick breath. Coming back on stage for an encore, they started with “Wolf’s Law,” which was just so perfect. The slow beginning calmed the crowd before ending in yet another insane outro. The jam session went so long that I almost doubted they would play their hit, “Whirring,” but right as a lull in the jam occurred, the chime-like melody kicked in and the crowd went absolutely nuts. You might recognize the melody as sampled in the comedy song “YOLO” by The Lonely Island, but the crowd recognized it instantly as a truly immense song they had waited all night to hear–and the band did not disappoint. Even after already doing two or three ridiculous outros in their set, the trio went all over the place with the conclusion, which featured Ritzy jumping into the pit below the stage, as well as a false ending that lead to an even more rowdy finale. As it finally ended, Ritzy dismantled her guitar. giving it to fans as Thomas made three trips back to his drum bag to toss out every last drumstick he had. The band had informed us that this was the last stop on their current tour, and just as they thew their drumsticks into the crowd, they left absolutely everything they had in them on that stage. All in all, they undoubtedly delivered the best concert Richmond has seen in 2013 thus far. If you didn’t go, you missed out on a spectacular concert and truly unforgettable evening.
The Joy Formidable Set:
This Ladder Is Ours
The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade
Maw Maw Song
I Don’t Want To See You Like This
The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie