Review: The Joy Formidable and A Place to Bury Strangers at the Bluebird Theater, 3/17/12


With a sample of spoken words as an intro, one of the moments in the set where The Joy Formidable shined the brightest was during "Buoy." From its moody, murky beginning to its steady, rapid progression into something altogether more bombastic and expansive, the song had one of the most beautiful builds between the noisiest sections of the tune that can be heard on its album.

The stage had been set up with a replica of a lighthouse and a steering wheel for a boat adorned Ritzy Bryan's mike stand (read our interview with Bryan.) After a bit of a production with the lowering of the lights and the band coming in almost under cover of darkness, the Joy Formidable started its performance with "A Heavy Abacus."

Even as a trio, the Joy Formidable created huge sounds with a palpable enthusiasm worthy of its name, met by a reaction from the crowd to match. Yes, it was a set of essentially pop songs given a dramatic flair, but you could tell that this band was still very excited to play its material in front of an audience. The trio's songs had shifting dynamics, but its members didn't seem to let up on the output of energy.

Bryan's sometimes wide-eyed vocal delivery and stage manner made it seem like she was riding an emotional wave that cycled through her as well as Rhydian Dafydd and Matt Thomas. Each seemed to put so much passion into playing their respective instruments that, at times, it looked like someone or something else was really in control.

The set consisted of most of the material from The Big Roar, and when the trio played the final song of its main set, "The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade," people cheered uproariously in recognition. That would have been the end, but the band figured the crowd had been nice enough that it would get a sample of its newly completed next record with a performance of "Silent Treatment," with Dafydd on acoustic guitar and Bryan on electric.

Based on the way the two interacted with the crowd, down to shaking as many hands as humanly possible on the way by, they could tell they were very much appreciated and wanted to return they favor they found from the people who showed up. The show ended with "Whirring," and featured on harp a woman named Stephanie, who played a gorgeous, stripped-down interpretation of the song and then handed off the song to the band, which took the music and ran with it.

The band extended the end of "Whirring" into a frenzy of sound that ended with Dafydd and Bryan kneeled down to manipulate the tones with their respective pedals. At the very end, Bryan bounced her guitar off the stage to elicit even more feedback and after a few bounces, she casually tossed the guitar aside.


The Joy Formidable Bluebird Theater - 3/17/12 Denver, CO

01. A Heavy Abacus 02. I Don't Want To See You Like This 03. Cradle* 04. The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie 05. Austere 06. The Magnifying Glass 07. Buoy 08. Endtapes 09. Greyhound In the Slips 10. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade


11. Silent Treatment 12. Whirring

* There may have been a song before this

Page down to read about A Place to Bury Strangers' opening set, followed by the setlist and Critic's Notebook.


Saturday night's show began with A Place to Bury Strangers, who strolled out on stage before the house music could be turned down and got to business. The band's set was comprised half of material from its excellent new EP, Onwards to the Wall beginning with the title track. The melancholy shimmer of "So Far Away" was an interesting change from the incendiary and aggressive material that can be found on about some of its previous albums.

When the threesome kicked into "Deadbeat," Oliver Ackerman held his guitar not like a musical instrument so much as something that spilt forth fire if properly used. He and Dion Lunadon held their instruments aloft and hunched forward with each almost like marionettes guided against their willpower to engage in gyrations both physical and musical. The transitions between songs could be discerned best in the change in beat, the strongest of which happened when the guys shifted from "I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart" to "Ocean."

It was Jay Space's pounding pulse of a beat that indicated where one song began and another ended. As usual, the song was a bit of a barn-burner and show-closer, but somehow these guys followed it up with two more tracks from their latest release and made each of the songs more forceful and brooding than you would expect. For "Drill It Up," Lunadon sang lead and the band's set careened to an end with "Nothing Will Surprise Me."


A Place to Bury Strangers Bluebird Theater - 3/17/12 Denver, CO

01. Onwards to the Wall 02. So Far Away 03. Deadbeat 04. Lost Feeling 05. I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart 06. Ocean 07. Drill It Up 08. Nothing Will Surprise Me


Personal Bias: Already a fan of both bands.

Random Detail: A Place to Bury Strangers posts interesting pictures to their website regularly.

By the Way: This was the most enthusiastic crowd that I've seen for a show for both bands in a long while.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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