The Joy Formidable [27 September 2010]

I’m not a massive fan of NME. I used to be. I used to buy it religiously (on my hands and knees, with a cross around my neck…boom boom) every week. Then, during one of their endless revamps it became nothing more than a series of glossy posters, ads and articles slagging off Morrissey. So I stopped. I still read it though, normally standing in WH Smiths. It takes about 5 minutes and saves you a fortune. Anyway, I’m not sure what sway NME holds with people these days, but if it helps bring new bands up to the mythical ‘next level’ then whoop-di-doo.

Whether this tour will do much to help the first band on the bill, Flats, remains to be seen though.

Flats Flats

What kind of Flats? The sort that glue sniffers squat in. The sort that you find in dull, grey council estates where half the windows are boarded up. The sort that smell of wee. Yes, Flats are a punk band. Grrrrr. Fast. Loud. Ramshackle. Go back 30 years or so and the audience would’ve been gobbing huge balls of phlegm at the band whilst pogoing themselves into the ground. Tonight they just stood around texting their mates. Oh well. Maybe when the country’s reduced to pile of festering rubbish in a few months time people will rediscover the anger, passion and creativity that genuinely seemed to grip people in the late 70’s and early 80’s (the last time the country was reduced to a pile of festering rubbish in fact). Actually that’s unfair. I’ve been to some ‘punk’ gigs where people still go 15 flavours of crazy but tonight definitely wasn’t a ‘punk’ night. Take a look at the other two bands on the bill and you’ll see what I mean. In terms of Flats’ performance they had some of the energy that you’re looking for in a band whose shortest track seemed to last around 25 seconds, but I kept yearning for the lead singer to leap the barriers and start beating people to death with his mic stand. That’ll get ‘em going…try ‘tweeting’ with a six inch shard of metal sticking out of your frontal lobe. What I’m trying to get at (and forgive me, I’m no expert on the genre) is that a true punk performance seems to be as much about the physicality of the event as it is about the music. You want to get a bit sweaty. You want to wake up with an oddly shaped bruise on a delicate part of your anatomy. And you want to ‘interact’ with your fellow gig goers as well as the group. I guess Gallows ruined me for any other punk band. But who knows, given a smaller venue, rammed with an ‘up for it’ crowd, perhaps Flats could take things to another level.

My third visit to Chapel Club in the last 12 months (that probably makes me a VIP member) and once again their blend of squally, echo heavy guitars and singer Lewis’ dreamy, slightly distant vocals gently drew me in.

Chapel Club

The holy trinity of ‘O Maybe I’, ‘Five Trees’ (you’ve gotta love those discordant guitars) and the Mamas and Papas sampling ‘Surfacing’ remained the set highlights, but newer track (and a clearer indication of the debut album’s sound according to Lewis) The Shore (shoe gaze ahoy) hints at a less poppy and more cerebral kinda club altogether.

Chapel Club Chapel Club

Lewis is starting to relax into his performance a bit more now. In earlier shows I got the sense that he was still a little nervous and tonight he even allowed himself a little banter and the odd smile or two.

Chapel Club

I had the great pleasure of interviewing (I use the term loosely) headliners The Joy Formidable earlier this year and a more genuine trio you couldn’t possibly hope to meet. They’ve certainly been putting in the work over the summer, touring all over the place and, judging by the enthusiastic gang of head nodders at the front, winning fans and influencing people.

The Joy Formidable [27 September 2010] The Joy Formidable [27 September 2010]

The stage, festooned with bird cages filled with glowing balls (nope, I’ve no idea what that was all about either… looked nice though), was arranged with all three of the band at the front. Nice touch. Too often the drummer (often visually one of the most exciting members of any band to watch) is stuck right at the back. I guess it’s a practical thing but tonight’s configuration (granted it was a decent sized stage) worked well. The band’s drummer, Matt, is certainly worth watching too. Like Animal from the muppets he plays loose limbed and furiously, working up an impressive sweat before the first number had come to an end. It’s difficult to take your eyes off Ritzy though. Thrashing all over the stage, arching her back (almost to the point where her head was touching the ground…she’ll be a chiropractor’s wet dream in20 years time) and wrestling with her screaming guitar like an anaconda with a meerkat she’s a twisty, turny noise machine, musically and vocally. In fact I reckon you could unplug her mic altogether and you’d still hear her. To her right stands the third piece of the puzzle, bass man Rhydian. I get the sense he might like to do more of the singing. He does provide vocals (a little low in the mix tonight) but even when he’s nowhere near the mic he’s singing along at full pelt. Hmmmm… I reckon the interplay between the two voices could well be worth exploring further.

The Joy Formidable [27 September 2010] The Joy Formidable [27 September 2010]

In terms of the set it was a fan friendly mix of the old and the new with ‘Cradle’, ‘Austere’ and ‘Whirring’ getting particularly enthusiastic receptions. On the last of these three Ritzy did her trademark guitar bullying routine, grinding the poor thing against one of the monitors then fiddling with her effects pedals to amplify its tortured screams further. As if that wasn’t enough noise terrorism for you she turned to an air raid siren (as you do) at the back of the stage, cranking it up furiously and filling the air with its ominous drone.

It was the encore, a relatively new track called ‘The Ever Changing Spectrum Of A Lie’, that provided the biggest revelation of the night though. There’s still plenty of the gloriously noisy stuff going on but there more space for Ritzy’s vocals. At one point she almost seemed to be singing acappela (she wasn’t but after the sonic assault of the previous hour or so it seemed that way). And it was quite beautiful, showing a more vulnerable side that I’d not seen so much before. We’re promised a new album just after Christmas and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the star of the show…

Cradle / Magnifying Glass / The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade / Austere / Ostrich / Greyhounds In The Slips / My Beerdrunk Soul Is Sadder Than a Thousand Dead Christmas Trees / The Last Drop / Whirring

The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie

Words by Daron Billings, email Daron.
Photos by Wayne Fox, email Wayne.

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