On The List :: The Joy Formidable @ Littlefield [11.11.12]

Ritzy Bryan is absolutely possessed. It is a mixture of sex and violence, rock and roll tied up in this white Victorian dress. Her signature stare, a blend of surprise and being overcome, scanned the corners of the room at Littlefield, a challenge and a dare from the lead singer of the Joy Formidable, one of the best rock bands you can currently see live. But this possession, the seeming loss of control in the hands of the moment has a secondary quality. As Bryan collapsed, heaved and writhed in the hands of her music, she captured the audience, a trick of being possessed and possessing in the same moment. Her eyes, writ large for effect, communicated that she was both here and somewhere else, or, that what was happening was about both her and her audience.

Playing a few intimate shows in New York in advance of their coming sophomore LP, Wolf's Law, the band took the stage at a sold-out and still entirely pleasant Littlefield, to the head-nodding tones of "The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade". Bryan produced her perfect little diorama of destruction on the song's signature lyric, "This dream is in a telescope now," a line written four years ago that seems almost anachronistic now that the band is seemingly so close to crossover, mainstream success. Put another way, the last time they played Brooklyn was nearly three years ago at Union Hall, and though Littlefield is just a few short blocks away, these two sets are separated by a gulf of touring, record sales and reputation-building as a one of the single most transformative live bands of their generation. Using this past to craft their future, the band played, "I Don't Want To See You Like This," a favorite from their debut LP before unleashing, "This Ladder Is Ours," the consensus first single from their forth-coming record. There is little better metaphor than possession of a ladder upwards, especially given the song's video featuring the band in a house blown to bits. Joy Formidable aim upwards because they are so gifted at the creative destruction of their surroundings.

The band moved through favorites, "Cradle," the first song that seized the American audience, and "Heavy Abacus" before playing some new, as-yet-unknown material. They returned to their back catalog on closer, "Whirring", a song where Bryan is at her finest zombie self, charging around the stage, bangs swaying at her eye line with a mixture of menace and couture. In the final moments of "Whirring", bassist Rhydian Dafydd pounded the cymbals on the drum kit, pointing to drummer Matt Thomas and mouthing, "This fucking guy" as Thomas did what he does best: unleashing double-tap fill after double-tap fill. Thomas returned the favor, giving Dafydd the finger which took one hand away from his drumming, a fact that did not seem to disrupt the fury coming from the kit.

Closing with a bit of the dualism that made them suitably famous, Joy Formidable returned for an encore of the acoustic, "Silent Treatment" and the thrashing "Ever Changing Spectrum Of A Lie". Bryan did both poles well, vulnerable and a bit awkward without her guitar and then wantonly destructive. It was possessed and possession, weakness and strength, quiet and loud, a band that is always moving in two directions at once. Finally, this dualism will be appropriately reconciled as they move onward and upward on a ladder of their own making, sex and violence in the same breath.

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