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My how they’ve grown. In the last two years, the London via North Wales power trio The Joy Formidable (perhaps the most, ahem, formidable live band of the past few years) have gone from playing tiny Kung Fu Necktie (which holds about 150 people) to Union Transfer, a club that holds over 1,000. I’d venture to guess that many of the folks who were watching the show hadn’t seen them in their 5(!) previous Philadelphia appearances and I’m sure many of them went home simply stunned by what they saw. On an almost two-year long tour (first for 2010 mini-Lp A Balloon Called Moaning and then for last year’s major label debut The Big Roar), they are more confident and relaxed than they were years ago. Consequently, a little (though just a little) of the almost scary intensity they had is missing, exchanged perhaps for frontwoman Ritzy Bryan‘s showmanship and witty banter. Perhaps, though, they’re just playing to the increased size of their audience. As thrilling as seeing them in a small club is, I got the feeling that last year’s show at the North Star Bar would probably be the last time in a while I’d ever get to see them in a venue that small given their ascending popularity and the fact that they’d just toured arenas playing with The Foo Fighters (hand-picked by Dave Grohl himself) and Social Distortion. Furthermore, it’s nice to see make the jump and to see them be so appreciated. Audience members sung every word and there wasn’t one song that stood out in that regard that everyone was waiting for. This is a band that seems to be acquiring devoted fans and that’s always a good thing.
The approximately-hour long set (including a two-song encore) consisted of old favorites like “Cradle,” “Austere,” “Whirring” (played as the last song and with a harp introduction by a guest whose name I didn’t catch) along with “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” mixed with newer material like “Endtapes” and the brand new “Silent Treatment” (the first song in the encore, it was performed as a duet between Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd in an acoustic version). The highlight for me, was the absolutely incredible “Greyhound in the Slips”, a song that inexplicably that didn’t make it onto The Big Roar and isn’t performed live all that often (I’d never seen them play it, in fact) but was released as a single in 2010. In this respect, they saved their best for last as the combination of that song along with the aforementioned “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” were simply sublime.
Openers A Place to Bury Strangers lived up to their reputation as an incredibly noisy band (we could hear them loud and clear and then some all the way from Union Transfer’s spacious back room bar/lounge area) and had moments that reminded me of something The Jesus and Mary Chain would’ve recorded for 1992’s Honey’s Dead or perhaps something in that vein, but were ultimately uninteresting over the course of 45 minutes.
We got there too late to catch Exitmusic, the band that started off the evening.
The Joy Formidable’s setlist can be found here.
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