To Seattle, with love – The Joy Formidable


article by Jason Kinnard | photos by Dave Lichterman

This past weekend was one of my favorite events of the year: The 8th Annual KEXP BBQ. As usual, the station made sure the day was filled with great bands from top to bottom, but I was secretly there to check out one of my favorite bands of the year: The Joy Formidable.

FULL DISCLOSURE: You should know that I’m a huge U.K. Music aficionado, so it’s no surprise this 3-piece is from Wales. Friends of mine were already rolling their eyes at yet another Brit band find; however, The Joy Formidable have been on my radar since last year when I heard some singles from their fantastic new EP – A Balloon Called Moaning. This is the sort of music you might call right in my “sweet spot”.

So, as you probably remember the weather this past weekend was beyond hot for Seattle. Maybe 95 degrees on Saturday? Too hot for North-Westerners. Thankfully, the site of the BBQ is well-shaded so most of the early crowd was ducked under trees keeping cool. And that was me too, until 4:00 when I hear The Joy Formidable start getting keyed up. I looked at the crowd and could start to see the kids move up front. Was that my signal?  Damn the sunlight and scorching concrete, I’m going to the front too. Do you kids even know what you are about to witness? Just as they are about to begin I see KEXP-DJ Shannon appear next to me and we give each other that sly smile and nod that says we know what’s about to go down. Little did I know how helpful Shannon would prove to be later…

As a U.K. band from Wales, they looked every bit the part. Some call it “swagger” I just call it a quiet confidence. After watching a few online clips from some of their previous live performances, I knew we might be in for something special. Considering this was also their first ever Seattle appearance, the performance added some extra significance for me, as did their choice to pair with KEXP.

For a 3-piece who have only been together a few years, The Joy Formidable amazed me with the tightness of their delivery. The metronomic beats of drummer Justin Stahley set the tone for the entire performance as he dropped his double-bass beats on the unsuspecting crowd. Rhydian Dafydd played a perfect bass while performing back-up vocal duties for the incredible woman of the hour: Ritzy Bryan. Talk about big things coming in small packages! With her short-cropped blonde hair, cute dress and bright red sunglasses, you certainly wouldn’t think of her as a rock-n-roll front woman, but sadly you’d be wrong. Some of the writers and I were joking that one of us could probably run to the stage and snatch her up in a fireman’s carry before the unsuspecting crowd figured out what was gong on. I decided to watch her instead.

Fittingly, the band started with “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” and commented on the weather in Wales. Trust us, we aren’t used to this sort of thing either! This song would prove to be just a warm-up (the puns just keep coming…) for what would be the best set of the day in my opinion. Songs like “Austere” came to life as the band prompted the crowd to sing-along and clap in unison despite an overzealous Seattle Center security lady telling us all to move away from the stage? Thanks for trying to ruin the fucking experience! Good thing we ignored you and your requests to not take photos (see above).

They only skipped a few songs from their EP – A Balloon Called Moaning and even though I loved every song, “The Last Drop” was probably my favorite song of their performance. The band finished their short set with a rocking version of “Whirring” complete with a near smash everything freak out session and a blur of tossed drum equipment and an impromptu feedback effects-pedal solo by Ritzy. It felt like we had just been handed this awesome musical gift. As we all left mouthing multiple “wow’s” to each other, we made it our mission to stop by the Merch table where Shannon and I had already devised secret plans to have an extended chat with the band. We all talked and laughed for a bit about the weather while Shannon told her a story about missing them in London last year. This gave me just enough time to purchase yet another copy of their EP and get Ritzy to sign it for me.

When I walked away and looked at what she wrote, it simply said: “Seattle, with love – Ritzy”

DJ Shannon looks at me, laughs and says “are you going to be allright?” all I can say is “No, No I’m not”. Yeah, it was that kind of performance…

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~ by clickdagger on August 17, 2010.

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