LIVE: The Joy Formidable, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

At this point, I’ve seen The Joy Formidable perform three times, though only once have I gone out of my way for them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a fantastic band, but the first two performances were completely on a whim. The first performance was on tour for their debut, The Big Roar, opening for Brand New at the Wonder Ballroom as part of MusicFest Northwest. Despite their massive sound, the band seemed timid and unsure of themselves, talking happily (but nervously) with the crowd in between songs. The band’s demeanor, especially that of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, stood at odds with the roaring (pardon the pun) sound of The Joy Formidable at that point in time. It almost came off as quaint, though distinctly Welsh.

The second time cemented my need to see them the third time. I caught them at the Roseland Theater – again, at MusicFest Northwest, this time supporting their second album Wolf’s Law – and while I wasn’t paying attention the band’s aesthetic and stage presence had coalesced in a way that made them an unbeatable band. Bryan and company still had their affable demeanor intact, but the evident self-doubt had evaporated in a haze of jet engine guitars and blistering drums. It was like watching stars being born onstage, amidst a galaxy of shoegaze fury and falsetto vocals. To this day, I’ve only been truly blown away by the exponential growth of a band a handful of times, but this growth remains the most memorable.

The third time, just last week, the band were joined by the astounding Everything Everything, a band that sounds at once like 20 different bands, and absolutely zero other bands. They’re like if Foals, Los Campesinos!, and Modest Mouse all had a weird cousin that didn’t quite know what pop music sounds like but feels the need to make it.

The Joy Formidable, though, seem to have gained the following they deserved. Adults and children peppered the audience with VIP laminates from meet-and-greet packages being sold on this tour. Are The Joy Formidable really that big now? I wondered to a handful of people at the show. I never quite got an answer, but they’ve earned it. Again, I found myself remarkably surprised by the band, now not just with the fury they exert onstage, and not just by how effortless it now seems for them, but by how truly dynamic they’ve become. They play a couple stripped-down acoustic numbers that still contain the same passion as their typical fare. The crowd hung on every last song, and despite only playing for a little over an hour, the crowd couldn’t contain it’s joy (pardon the pun, again) even when they wrapped up the set. Their big number, “Whirring”, still riles up a crowd of faithful disciples effortlessly. Even as a relatively minor fan of the band, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the unwavering devotion people apparently have for this band.

After three evenings with this band, I’ll gleefully see them every chance I get. They represent the promise of young bands going right in exactly the right places, and though the Wonder Ballroom was by no means sold out, it never slowed down their forward momentum. If you find yourself unsure about this band, for heaven’s sake, go see them play if you can. It will convert you faster than you can blink.

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