I jump at the chance to see loud bands at close quarters. It’s fascinating when you can see musicians doing what they do best mere metres away, especially when it involves thrumming guitars and pounding drums. There’s no substitute for the physicality of a rock band in full flow, as I was reminded watching Welsh alt-rock trio The Joy Formidable at Southsea’s iconic Wedgewood Rooms a little over a week ago. And at Wedge, you’re always close to the action.
The three-piece from Flintshire – lead vocalist and guitarist Rhiannon ‘Ritzy’ Bryan, bassist and vocalist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas – have been performing since 2009, and while they’ve amassed a legion of loyal fans, I think they deserve to be much more well-known than they are.
I’m lucky enough to have seen The Joy Formidable once before, at Cornish festival Boardmasters back in 2013 and I remember loving their energy. This time, I was excited to see that dynamism in a much more intimate setting.
Before the band even appeared, the unconventional stage set up caught our attention – the drumkit was right at the front rather than tucked away at the back as it normally would be, facing the two mics across the other side of the stage.
Then when TJF took up their spots and launched into opening number Caught on a Breeze, it was clear why – we could see every beat Matt rained down on the drumkit with frenetic precision, a view you rarely, if ever, get to see so close up. We were in for a drumming masterclass.
Just as I remembered them, The Joy Formidable sounded absolutely on form live. They perform with a synergy between them that just lets the music shine, building to an almost hypnotic fusion of sound that swept us all up with every song. TJF tracks are long and never rushed, and live they layer up with the same polished ferocity, all grungy guitars, hammering drums and melodic vocals.
The set was full of their pacier songs with plenty of instrumental breakdowns from all three bandmembers. We got several album finale tracks in the form of Ostrich, CSTS and The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, with its synthy riff and dreamy vocals mounting to a wall of sound close. One of my highlights was Whirring, the first TJF song I ever heard and a lighter, brighter indie side to the band. It’s still a banger though, and Matt’s furious drum crescendo was an absolute treat.
We also got to hear Ritzy sing in Welsh on Twrch Leuad, which was released exclusively to the TJF Music Club during the pandemic. She told us it was about needing human connection while also feeling like people “get on your tits”. If that’s not a relatable theme for a song I’m not sure what is.
After Into the Blue, the band launched into classic track Cradle, introducing as the song that caused “the great tooth incident of Portsmouth” – yep, their last date in Pompey resulted in a lost tooth in the audience. No need to worry though, apparently it was recovered again the same night but it was nice to know our city is part of TJF tour folklore.
Ritzy and Rhydian then gave us a stripped-back acoustic rendition of A Heavy Abacus, before performing the sultry-sounding Share My Heat, their latest single. It’s an epic 15 minutes on the EP and made a perfect climax to close the main set.
For the encore, they gave us Little Blimp and, as a result of a call for requests, a full version of The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie, a first play on their current tour. With only one more night to go before they were due to head home, Ritzy told us that this had been their favourite UK tour so far, and a reconnection to their listeners. The final song was the slow-burning Left Too Soon, which also summed up how we felt about TJF’s latest visit to the Wedge. Formidable indeed.