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Gig Review: The Joy Formidable O2 Academy 2 Oxford
“Author: Kathryn Black
Gig: The Joy Formidable
Venue: O2 Academy 2 Oxford
Date: 22nd May 2016”
“Not much happens in Oxford on a Sunday. You might see an eager tourist trying out punting for the first (and probably the last) time, but – particularly on a balmy, springtime evening – you don’t always see two totally different, undeniably brilliant bands take to the stage of Oxford’s O2 Academy 2.
Just before support band Demob Happy stumbled on to the stage, the venue filled in a flash, ready for the Newcastle/Brighton rockers to throw themselves into their unbelievably loud performance.
Despite the deafening guitars, the driving bassline and racing drums took centre stage. In fact, someone needs to get drummer Thomas Armstrong a medal: growling the house down while attacking his kit with more energy than Animal from The Muppets. All eyes were on him for the band’s short but punchy set. Demob Happy have already stormed stages at the likes of The Great Escape – Brighton’s eponymous citywide festival – and, while the band avoid social media obsessions like Twitter, their music speaks for itself.
As soon as the headliners, The Job Formidable took to the stage, the whole venue took on a different atmosphere. Sometimes you just feel it in your bones that something great’s about to happen and that night the feeling was justified. The Joy Formidable are already a well-known name in the alternative music world, but they definitely set out to impress their audience as they burst into action.
With two of their shorter efforts ‘Cradle’ and ‘Little Blimp’ starting proceedings, this showed their signature noisy, alternative rock mixing with radio-friendly pop melodies. Rhiannon “Ritzy” Brian’s intense, varied facial expressions and foot stomping were attention grabbing from the start and – as she gave bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James her undivided but equal attention throughout – their performance grew more and more encapsulating.
‘Liana’, the lead single from this year’s ‘Hitch’ album, sounded cool and calm, bringing the energy to a more subdued level as the soft piano introduction made way for an atmospheric, gothic chorus and a brooding, guitar-heavy crescendo. Although tame compared to ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ – a frantic song of racing drums and a grungy chorus – and ‘Austere’ – a dreamy indie pop song – the new material certainly proved its worth.
A heavier moment came from ‘Maw Maw Song’ (weird name right? Have a listen and you’ll get it) and saw Dafydd come in to his own with unstoppable basslines and bold, powerful vocals. A mammoth effort at almost seven minutes long, it took on a life of its own on stage and the huge instrumental outro showcased the band’s unstoppable musicianship. With the sky soaring capabilities of Arcade Fire and a sound to fill any festival field, ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ felt far too big for the enclosed walls of the academy. It would have been no surprise if the doors burst off their hinges as the room shook with each deliberate and gripping note.
Finding a slot within the crowd, fans were enthralled as the band joined the audience for an acoustic performance of ‘The Brook’. The chance to hear Bryan’s vocals didn’t go unnoticed; faultless and stirring, nobody made a sound as they watched in awe. It wouldn’t be a Formidable song if it weren’t diverse and interesting and ‘Radio Of Lips’ contrasted wonderfully with show closer ‘Whirring’. From a simple, bouncing rock song to an alternative gem worthy of gracing many a soundtrack, all eyes were on the band for the monster encore.
Whether you’re an avid fan already, The Joy Formidable is just a name you’ve come across while skimming a festival line up, or you’ve heard your trendy mate singing their praises once or twice, you’ve got to see this band live. Already unique and impossible to ignore on record, they’re an alternative powerhouse on stage and a huge force to be reckoned with. We already can’t wait for more.”
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