The latest installment in the nascent Red Bull Sound Select Series probably could have happened at a venue three times the size of 3 Kings. And The Joy Formidable kicked up a glorious racket that was big enough for a stadium rock event.
Before getting on stage, the trio seems like such a charming, mild-mannered bunch. But during their set, an irrepressible spirit, an electrifying enthusiasm, coursed through the band. At one point front woman Ritzy Bryan told us about where the band is originally from in North Wales, where there are big, rolling hills and mountains. It's a lot like Colorado, she noted, and that when it was starting out, The Joy Formidable wanted to make a sound that the mountains might make. The manifestation of that early ambition was sure on full display last night.
There was an admirable seamlessness between the sampled sounds and tracks and the other instrumentation and that just made the band seem almost superhuman in the amount of sound and detail coming flooding from the P.A. speakers. Bryan clearly had some kind of iOS device in her chain of equipment on the floor. It may have been some more portable way to bring more effects controllable with the long set of foot switches. And Rhydian Dafydd had some kind of sampler or looper as well. But they both made any multi-tasking seem second nature, putting their full energy into the execution of the music on an emotional level alongside drummer Matthew Thomas. At times Bryan did what might be best described as a backward mini-crouch as though playing her guitar to the skies.
The music, drawn from all three of the group's albums, was perfectly sequenced so that there was never a drop in momentum: "Maw Maw Song" was prog enough to be reminiscent of something Edgar Winter might have written, and amidst the towering whirlwinds of exuberant, uplifting melodies, there were moments of tenderness. Even the songs about sad subjects seemed like a transmogrification of that emotional pain into determination. Joy Formidable was truly the band that lived up to the promise of its name.
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The show started off with Fort Collins' Wire Faces. No matter what permutation of evolution of this band you see, it's always unexpectedly compelling in some fashion. A singing drummer that plays with as much vigor as Shane Zwegardt is a rarity but he's in good company with bassist Menyus Borocz and guitarist Ian Haygood. In terms of the fiery spirit and sense of primal, fluid rhythm that informs this band's music it might properly be compared to The Pop Group. This seemed like a more musically coherent set than usual in the sense of focus rather than restraining any of the group's usual wild energy and the crowd responded in kind.
The Epilogues immediately preceded The Joy Formidable and got into the music with its usual high level of passionate delivery. Chris Heckman's voice seemed a little gruffer than usual, so maybe he was suffering from whatever malady seems to be making the rounds at the moment but he didn't whatever the cause of that might be from throwing himself into the songs and these guys play with what could only be considered a driven commitment to the material. Sure the influences were obvious with Smashing Pumpkins in there somewhere and Radiohead (the band covered "Karma Police" toward the end of its set). And that familiarity probably appeals to a lot of people. What seemed its strongest material, though, was when Nate Hammond's synth work was more prominent in the mix of sounds. It really gives the music a powerful and moving quality that isn't quite there in the other material. Jason Hoke and Jeff Swoboda provided fantastic and imaginative rhythms and textures so with a little bit of tweaking in its overall sound, The Epilogues could clear what seems an obvious next creative hurdle into the being the band it will next become.
Bias: I was already a fan of The Joy Formidable as well as The Epilogues and Wire Faces.
By the Way: Xandy Whitesel did sound for the first two bands. Good choice.
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