The Joy Formidable @ Gorilla, Manchester, 15 Feb
A noisy, intimate turn from the Welsh trio has them looking like a fierce rock and roll outfit again
There was a sense when The Joy Formidable returned last year that they were going back to their roots. AAARTH was their first album since 2016’s Hitch, which was a stylistically diverse effort that took in everything from downbeat grunge to noisy punk, and yet if felt like a case of the Welsh trio looking like jacks of all trades and masters of none. The frustrating thing was that they are masters of panoramic, anthemic guitar rock, which is what made their 2011 debut The Big Roar so compelling; that kind of unabashed, arena-worthy ambition is a rarity in new bands these days. AAARTH harks back to it, all furious riffery and fists-to-the-sky soundscapes.
All of which means that The Joy Formidable rock up in Manchester tonight with a clutch of new material that complements, rather than goes against, the rest of their back catalogue. As frontwoman Ritzy Bryan notes from the stage, this is a town of considerable significance for them; the nearest major city to the sleepy corner of north Wales that they grew up in, it served as the backdrop for most of their formative musical experiences. That they’re playing to a not-quite-full Gorilla, when they headlined across the road at the much bigger Ritz a few years back in support of sophomore LP Wolf’s Law, is indicative of the degree to which the two subsequent albums seem to have flown under the radar, but the cosier surroundings suit what feels like a considerably rawer iteration of the band.
Opener Y Bluen Eira is driven by a pummelling, moody riff, and is perhaps the standout amongst the new cuts; an eccentric take on The Wrong Side is gripping, but the similarly challenging Cicada (Land On Your Back) falls flat. Meanwhile, older tracks are by turns relayed faithfully (The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade is as urgent as ever) and reinvented – an acoustic interlude, comprising A Heavy Abacus and Underneath the Petal, is a nice touch.
The highlight, as usual, is a cacophonic take on long-time live favourite Whirring to close out the encore, basically presenting The Joy Formidable’s entire sonic approach in microcosm. But there’s evidence across the set tonight that The Joy Formidable are beginning to claw back what goodwill they tested with Hitch – they’re looking and sounding like a genuinely fierce rock band again.