On The List :: The Joy Formidable @ Union Hall [1.11.10]

In a sleepy section of Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, The Joy Formidable are flooding a basement with a wall of noise. The room is packed, a guest-list stuffed, much buzzed show; only their fourth in the US. From the opening chords of album and set opener, "The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade," it is easy to see why. Vocalist Ritzy Bryan is a sprite of energy, equal parts Emily Haines, Courtney Love and Karen O. With bangs cut at an aggressive straight-line and a shock of blond hair, Byran stares blankly, almost possessed through the opening tones of "Cradle," the night's second song, before exploding into the verse.

Undeniably, the night's best moments come near the beginning and at the very end. The set loses its mandate in the middle, though Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd never lose their edge. Deeper cuts from the band's seminal debut, A Balloon Called Moaning, fill the middle of the set. Even at their most middling, there is something about this music, parts shoegaze, parts garage-rock that moves the crowd to bounce, clap and cheer along. The band, of course, saves its best for last.

Motoring through "Austere," we are left the the crashing and intensely melodic "Whirring." A yuppie to my 12 o'clock whispers in his girlfriend's ear, "This is their big radio single." She nods knowingly. She has no idea. The Joy Formidable, twenty rows toward the front thank us before stomping into the opening chords. The song will end with a thrashing breakdown, leaving the crowd wrecked and Bryan's guitar beyond repair. As the band returns for an encore, Bryan fiddling around with her equipment for a minute before sheepishly apologizing because her guitar simply won't play. This is much more than a basement band, willing to break themselves to achieve something larger, and next time you see them it will not be in a room this small.

Listen :: The Joy Formidable - "Cradle"

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