Well, we came for the RAWK show and the RAWK show was what we got. Last Monday the 9:30 Club sported a knockout triple bill of The Joy Formidable with A Place To Bury Strangers and Exitmusic supporting. We’re big fans of Exitmusic here at the site, and going in, that was the band we were most excited to see, but walking out I can’t say that they were the clear winners in this RAWK off.
Exitmusic proved that their moody electro tidal wave of sound continues to get bigger. I first caught this duo last year when they opened for Phantogram at The Black Cat and my opinion then was that the room was just too small. That and that the duo needed a little more...something. An extra kick. The music was great to be sure, but their stage presence left me feeling like there was some unrealized potential there.
On Monday, as Aleksa Palladino’s ghostly vocals swirled around Devon Church’s bleak soundscapes of feedback drenched guitar it was clear that the duo (plus two other members of the touring band) had become much more comfortable in their skins as performers. It was also clear that even a room the size of the 9:30 Club ultimately might not be big enough to contain their sound. Still though, the band isn’t quite living up to the potential that their music implies. If you’re going to occupy the ground that lies somewhere between the early works of The Cure and My Bloody Valentine and all the drama that is implied by that type of music we’ve got two words of Exitmusic that will help them achieve total world domination: LIGHT SHOW.
Normally I would be loathe to suggest that a band stand on anything but its music, but Exitmusic’s live show deserves all of visual bells and whistle that it could possible care to burden itself with. It won’t make the music any better - because it doesn’t need to - but taking a few hints from their previous tour mates (or current, but more on that in a minute) or the likes of M83 could do a lot do push Exitmusic up into the superstar stratosphere.
And speaking of light shows...holy fuck A Place To Bury Strangers. No seriously. HO-LEE-FUCK. Truth be told, I had never even heard of this trio from Brooklyn before Monday night, and that’s all on me. Apparently that’s a HUGE failing, as people there were gushing about this band the second I walked in the door. But you can’t listen to everything, and honestly, that’s probably the least embarrassing hole in the breadth of my musical knowledge, so I can live with that.
APTBS: Did we mention HO-LEE-FUCK
With that in mind, there’s not much else to say about the band except HO-LEE-FUCK. For 40 some odd minutes the audience was pummeled by a ferociously moody and impossibly gigantic wall of sound that utilized an army of strobes and possibly every smoke machine in the District to get its point across. How had I not heard of APTBS? Who cares. Next time I’ll have more to report but for now, all I can say is RAWK.
Which brings us to The Joy Formidable. Since 2007 this trio from North Wales has been quietly building a following by playing their arena ready brand of rock to packed venues that are much smaller than their giant noise would suggest would even be possible. They’ve had their minor hits along the way (“Whirring” of off 2011’s The Big Roar topped the charts here at #8) and it was just last year that things seemed to pay off in big ways for them when they snagged an opening slot on the Foo Fighters last tour.
What ultimately sells the band though is that as nostalgically inclined as their music may be (1997 called guys. It wants its Garbage and Smashing Pumpkins back), there’s just no denying the inherent, well, joy in their live performance. There’s an art to putting on a RAWK show and The Joy Formidable have perfected it. Watching singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan bounce around the stage, stopping only briefly to deliver a well studied rock pose while drummer Matt Thomas gleefully pounded the drums with a near METALLL!!! intensity...well...there’s just nothing not to love about it. And while most of the audience hung on Bryan’s every word, it wasn’t necessary that you were a fan going in, because you likely would be one coming out. I know going in I wasn’t an uber-fan, and frankly, I’m still not. But that doesn’t matter because that doesn’t appear to be the band’s mission. What The Joy Formidable is doing musically isn’t pushing modern music forward. It’s not redefining genres. In fact in many ways they are simply appropriating the best of what came before them and simply giving it right back to the world. But the HOW they are giving it back is what makes The Joy Formidable a force to be reckoned with.
In a musical landscape that can too often be rotten with pretention, overwrought emotional bullshit, and general wankitude The Joy Formidable have come to do one thing, and one thing only, and that is RAWK. One cannot argue with it, criticize it or even avoid it. It just is. And whether or not you or I run home and put on their records (I don’t, btw) doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that the next time The Joy Formidable comes to your town and you buy a ticket, you are guaranteed a RAWK show with a capital RAWK, and I can’t think of any better measure of a band’s success than that.
Check out the rest of our shots from The Joy Formidable, A Place To Bury Strangers and Exitmusic by clicking on the links below: