The Joy Formidable are the best live act in rock and roll. Two shows at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas left no doubt. When this band takes the stage in support of Foo Fighters later this year, their sonic assault will establish them within the music world and these small shows in front of a few hundred hungry souls will dissipate into the ether. Those who have caught these early rumblings on U.S. soil will treasure the memories, the set lists, and most of all, the massive wave of music delivered in such small spaces. The band’s music is born for stadiums where the nuclear blasts of noise can be witnessed best.
Opening both nights with ‘A Heavy Abacus’, Ritzy Bryan wastes little time winning over the curious in attendance and the push towards the stage swells. Rhydian Dafydd’s bass runs through a maze of pedals to create sticky fuzz under Bryan’s diamond bright guitar notes. The sheer madness of Matt Thomas on the drum kit drives the music ferociously forward with unbridled joy. Unintentional, the choice of the band’s name feels apropos when you witness the interplay of the three musicians on stage. On the second night, the crowd keeps clapping along as ‘Austere’ winds to a close and, smiling, the band exchanges glances and fire off a few more minutes of music with punkish glee.
The Saturday set list offers up two changes and both are brilliant additions to the set. ‘The Magnifying Glass’ tightens the band’s sound into a small fist that seeks out your gut while ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ is a sprawling horizon dotted with multiple pop hooks and electrifying breaks. Upon arriving in Las Vegas, the band’s first stop was a local radio station where the songs were stripped down to two acoustic guitars and a few small drums. For all the attention the band’s huge sound receives, it is the songs within the noise that make The Joy Formidable a special outfit. Intelligent songwriting can survive in any climate and the band weaves together influences like Elvis Costello and the Beatles before layering it in their unique blend of distortion and mystery.
Both nights end the same with unhinged takes on the band’s most popular single to date ‘Whirring’. Bryan and Dafydd spin into each other and instruments become weapons of sound as they fall to their knees and tweak every knob on the intricate pedal boards at their feet. The droning notes continue to pulse as the band says goodnight and leaves the stage in disarray. The eight songs fly by in a little under an hour each night but the power of the performance leaves the crowd exhausted and ecstatic. This is rock and roll.