1st November 2012, Manchester Arena
Irrespective of whether or not you’re familiar with The Joy Formidable, you likely did a double take at seeing their name next to ‘Manchester Arena’; they’re not here on the own authority just yet, with tonight’s show being part of a slew of support slots to Muse, providing them the opportunity to emerge from a self-imposed studio break to roadtest new material from next January’s sophomore Wolf’s Law LP.
The Joy Formidable aren’t really a band given to spending time off the road; they’ve toured relentlessly over the past five years, to the extent that they seem almost to have become a permanent fixture on Mancunian gig guides, racking up an impressive number of shows in the city and cultivating an imposing live reputation in the process.
They last appeared in town at a sold-out Academy 2 headline show on their first album’s UK victory lap, but there’s nothing particularly jarring about the manner in which the bridge the capacity chasm. Their stage presence is completely arresting; they’re not the most nuanced band in the world, by any means, but they play with such vigour and abandon that it’s difficult to care – this is a band that once turned rock n roll convention on its head by smashing their gear at the start of the set, rather than the end, at Leeds Festival two years ago.
They pick up, tonight, where they left off on record, opening with ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’, which closed last year’s debut, The Big Roar; with shimmering guitars cascading over a simple, relentless keyboard riff that rings out like a siren. It kicks off a set dominated by older cuts that showcase both sides of the band’s modus operandi; ‘Austere’ and ‘Cradle’ are short, sharp, hook-driven and poppy, while ‘The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie’ is a more controlled, deliberate effort, holding off on reaching its swirling, guitar-driven crescendo until the song’s fifth minute. Letting it down, though, is its incongruous placement in the middle of the set; it feels like far more of a drag than it should played between two of the band’s snappier efforts.
There’s a couple of new tracks aired, in the form of already-released internet singles ‘Cholla’ and ‘This Ladder Is Ours’; the former’s bombastic riff is worthy of tonight’s headliners, but the latter sounds as if they’ve hit autopilot, vocals getting lost in the turgid guitars. Both, perhaps due to their novelty, meet with a muted response. They close, almost obligatorily at this point, with their party piece, ‘Whirring’, which was proclaimed by Dave Grohl to be his favourite song of last year and features a genuinely thrilling extended instrumental outro, frontwoman Ritzy Bryan somehow managing to produce twenty guitars’ worth of sound out of just the one, producing a maelstrom of reverb crashed over by drums that, through the arena’s potent soundsystem, sound closer to heavy artillery. The Joy Formidable already have a slew of songs written for these kinds of rooms; next year’s second album might prove the litmus test as to whether they’ll also have the necessary longevity.