Make no mistake, the late spring/early summer Pittsburgh concert schedule is usually extremely ripe with quality shows, but many tours manage to overlap with a dramatic Penguins playoff run. As a die hard Pens fan, this problem is never easily reconciled and last night was no exception. In the face of a do-or-die game seven for the Pens against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I made Sophie’s choice and decided to sacrifice the entirety of the second period to witness Welsh indie rockers The Joy Formidable perform a set in The Smiling Moose’s second floor concert venue.
Granted, these aren’t some Animal Collective clones from Williamsburg cruising through Pittsburgh on their way to more “important” dates in places like Chicago and Austin. Fresh from delivering a scorching, mid-day set on the second day of fucking Coachella (a performance that garnered them some of the best reviews of the entire festival), these London transplants stopped in the Burgh armed with a sound that’s tight, anthemic, and Wembly Stadium big. Coupled with the fact that I’ve had their debut full-length The Big Roar repeating on my iTunes since it was released this past March (the bulk of which existed previously on their equally magnificent 2010 EP A Balloon Called Moaning) and I wasn’t missing this show come hell or high water.
Simply put, my decision to ignore a period playoff hockey was rewarded. The trio shot out of the gate with a blistering version of The Big Roar’s track one “The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie,” showcasing five foot nothing, platinum blonde front woman Ritzy Bryan’s uncanny ability to command a stage. The young lady was nothing less than a shotgun blast of guitar goddess fury; strutting, snarling, and shredding her way through old hits like “Austere” and “Cradle” before launching into “The Magnifying Glass,” arguably the loudest, most pummeling track The Joy Formidable have in their arsenal. Along with drummer Matt Thomas’ machine gun percussion assault and Rhydian Dafydd’s precision bass licks, Ryan utilized three or four distortion pedals to unfurl a towering wave of layered guitar pyrotechnics, melodic and heavy in equal measure.
By the time the power pop bliss of set closer “Whirring” eventually devolved into an extended outro of howling guitar feedback and floor tom battery, the monitors were holding on for dear life. After everything ended, I was left with the burning image of Bryan, on her knees, slamming her Fender repeatedly into her amp to produce echoing rattles of beautiful fuzz. Eventually, she stood up, exhausted, and walked quietly through the crowd as the amp wailed behind her. Her bandmates silently followed as Bryan left the audience behind. She never looked back.
The Joy Formidable – The Magnifying Glass
The Joy Formidable – Whirring