Show review: The Joy Formidable at Paradise Rock Club – 3/30


British trio The Joy Formidable brought their anthemic tunes, a whole lot of ocean-themed props and New York City’s loudest band to a sold-out crowd at the Paradise on Friday night.

Prior to the evening’s more theatrical elements, another New York band by the name of Exitmusic kicked things off with a set of mysterious, ambient-leaning songs. The core duo of guitarist Devon Church and vocalist/keyboardist/occasional guitarist Aleksa Palladino were backed by Dru Pretiss on drums and Nicholas Shelestak on synths. The songs were floating and ethereal, tied together by Palladino’s strikingly powerful voice. It was an enjoyably laid-back set; a pleasant counterpoint to the sonic onslaught to come.

Admittedly, the set I was most excited for at this show was not that of the headliners, but rather the performance by the aforementioned ‘loudest band in New York’: A Place to Bury Strangers. The group has something of a reputation for shows which are as chaotic as they are inconceivably noisy. Their unfortunately brief opening slot and a mostly disinterested crowd made this a less than ideal situation for the band to show off, but they made the best of it.

Rumors of their eardrum abuse and chaotic nature have hardly been exaggerated. The band’s sound draws heavily from the noisier outskirts of 80s post-punk and 90s shoegaze, featuring copious amounts of droning feedback and distortion-heavy Sonic Youth-esque freakouts. Each song seems to begin with a sense of foreboding and impending doom, and eventually erupt into violence both sonic and physical. Bassist Dion Lunadon and drummer Jason Weilmeister hold the songs together as guitarist and vocalist Oliver Ackermann indulges in some of the most confrontational guitar playing you’re ever likely to witness. His solos don’t end so much as they collapse. Guitars are strummed viciously enough to break off most of the strings and then thrown across the stage, as if all the sound and life have been beaten out of them for the time being. As a guitar geek I must admit to wincing slightly as Ackermann’s first Jaguar came crashing down on the stage in front of me, but it was strangely thrilling to watch. Few bands embrace true rock and roll spirit and abandon as much as this one. Between the blaring volume and the band’s dispensing with house lighting in favor of projections and strobes, their set felt like an assault on the senses in the best possible way. I was hoping for a slightly different setlist, and a longer time slot, but A Place to Bury Strangers still managed to impress with what they had. Hopefully they’ll be returning for a headlining show sometime soon.

Most of the crowd did not seem to share my enthusiasm for APTBS, and it was pretty evident that The Joy Formidable was the sole reason this show sold out so far in advance. This was only the first of several signs that this band will likely be playing much larger venues than the Paradise in the near future.

In a sharp contrast to pretty much every other band I’ve seen here, The Joy Formidable brought along an entire stage worth of props and general stage accoutrements, including but not limited to: an eight foot tall wooden lighthouse, a gigantic banner bearing the band’s logo, a set of lobster traps and fishnets adorned with Christmas lights, a harp, and a full-sized gong. In a fitting reflection of the band’s massive shout-along songs, the whole thing felt just slightly over-the-top.

That being said, I can’t fault the band for embracing what they know how to do quite well. The band is (or was, more accurately, since the tour has since ended) still touring its early 2011 debut album The Big Roar. Two minutes into their set, ‘big roar’ felt like a perfectly accurate descriptor. The band took the stage with an impressive energy that never really let up throughout their hour-plus set. Frontwoman Ritzy Bryan both sings and plays guitar as if she’s performing for an entire stadium rather than a sub-1,000 capacity rock club. Bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas match her step for step. The three of them have a chemistry that translates to a friendly, talkative presence onstage and a tight, cohesive sound. The band had no trouble working and winning over the crowd.

The Joy Formidable have spent enough time touring The Big Roar to know how to draw the most from every song they play, non-album cuts included. The set moved fluidly from one tour-de-force track to the next. The energy never waned, and Bryan’s increasingly manic facial expressions seemed to indicate that there would be no stopping her even if someone wished to try. To my slight disappointment, though, the band’s noisier tendencies on record seemed scaled back in their live performance. It was the catchy melodies and big choruses that the band chose to emphasize over The Big Roar‘s wall-of-sound elements. The crowd was loving it, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly let down. The shoegaze comparisons were what drew me to the band in the first place, and I was a bit sad to see them downplaying that side of their sound.

Regardless, the band definitely knows what the majority of its fans are looking for, and they deliver it in spades. I certainly can’t fault them for that, and they still put on a pretty damn entertaining show.