Friday, May 7th, 2010
The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade
The Joy Formidable and The Dig at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangSo yeah, I see a lot of bands live. And as a result, the list of bands that I want to see and haven’t – at least amongst those artists currently on active duty – has gotten pretty small, made up mainly of smaller acts for whom North American touring is an economical improbability. I’d placed Welsh trio The Joy Formidable in this category since discovering them last February, and so was more than a little frustrated that the place I thought I might have a chance to see them – SxSW – just wouldn’t happen. They canceled their 2009 appearance and opted for a UK tour instead this year and while they’d made a few surgical strikes to New York, there never seemed to be a greater design for conquering America… until there was.
A modest plan, perhaps, but the North American release of their most excellent debut A Balloon Called Moaning – which was one of my favourites of last year and would have been noted as such in year-end lists had I not been so pedantic about albums versus EPs – in advance of the release of their first full-length later this year was certainly a good start. The short tour that brought them to the Horseshoe in Toronto on Tuesday for a free Nu Music Nite engagement was a fantastic next step.
Their tourmates for their first expedition through the wilds of the northeast of the continent were Brooklyn’s The Dig, who were themselves readying their debut in Electric Toys, slated for a June 8 release. My advance copy of the record hadn’t made a huge impression, coming across mainly as decent if not especially distinctive college rock, but live the differences between their strengths and weaknesses were clearer. At their best, they combined the pop sense and garage-y attitude of The Strokes with a musical approach built on insistent bass riffs and dreamy, atmospheric touches. At their worst, they turned in unremarkable and plodding rote bar/blues-rock. Sadly, these seemed to be the songs that were best-received. Here’s hoping that in the long run, The Dig don’t give the people what they want and instead, make interesting music.
Though I hadn’t noticed much chatter about this show going into the evening and most of the city’s Brit-rock fans were at the Opera House selling out the Frightened Rabbit show, there was a good-sized crowd in place to welcome The Joy Formidable to Toronto. And it’s a good thing, because their brand of big guitar rock really demands an audience for full effect. To my ears, A Balloon Called Moaning is a pretty much perfect blend of sugary pop hook, spiky attitude and aesthetics that are little too effervescent to count as shoegazey (though that influence is quite evident) and live, The Joy Formidable were somehow able to make it all sound even better. There were initially some technical problems – a broken strap here, a split drum skin there – but the band made up for those early lulls with extra intensity when they were able to get everything working and when there were no more equipment glitches, that energy just snowballed. Ritzy Bryan was a tiny but magnetic frontwoman, handling both vocal and Stratocaster sonic attack duties with aplomb, and while it was hard to take your eyes off her, much credit must also go to her bandmates Rhydian Dafydd on bass and backing vocals and Matt Thomas on drums for both laying the foundation for their monolithic wall of sound and lifting her up on top of it. Though their set was just 45 minutes or so, that was more than enough time to run through the Balloon material along with some new material, cement existing fans and completely win over new ones. So completely worth the wait and, with promises to return within months – presumably when the new album arrives later this Summer – the next wait won’t be quite so long.
Photos: The Joy Formidable, The Dig @ The Horseshoe – May 4, 2010
MP3: The Joy Formidable – “Whirring”
MP3: The Joy Formidable – “Austere”
MP3: The Joy Formidable – “Greyhounds In The Slips”
MP3: The Dig – “You’re Already Gone”
Video: The Joy Formidable – “Popinjay”
Video: The Joy Formidable – “Whirring”
Video: The Joy Formidable – “Austere”
Video: The Joy Formidable – “Cradle”
MySpace: The Joy Formidable
Kele has released a video for that first single from The Boxer, due out June 21. He plays the Mod Club on July 29.
Video: Kele – “Tenderoni”
BBC6 talks to The National’s Matt Berninger about High Violet, out Tuesday, while Vanity Fair has a rather pointless piece wondering if The National are America’s Radiohead… yeah. Nice photos, though. The National are at Massey Hall on June 8 and 9.
Karen Elson – who may well be known as a singer-songwriter first and foremost but for now will have to settle for being a top model and Mrs Jack White – has a date at the El Mocambo on June 16 as part of a tour in support of her solo debut The Ghost Who Walks, out May 25 in the UK and later this year in North America. Tickets for the show are $15 in advance. Black Book has an interview.
The Fiery Furnaces, who seem to have played every room – big and small – in the city, will be doing the small when they return on June 21 for a show at the Drake Underground. Their last release was 2009’s I’m Going Away.