Friday, 8 October 2010

NME Radar Tour The Joy Formidable / The Chapel Club @ The Sugarmill 7th October 2010

Review by Sian Eardley

Photo by Tish Scripps

A spectacular treat lay in store for avid gig-goers tonight as ‘The Joy Formidable’ marvelously presented themselves at The Sugarmill as part of the NME Radar Tour, making for a very splendid evening.

‘The Chapel Club’, the main support, in their half an hour (or thereabouts) set offered a very middle-of-the-road performance, with their gentlemanly name painting enough of a picture of these moody boys in suit shirts. Singer Lewis Bowman looked incredibly pensive, trying to hard to aspire to the tortured soul of Ian Curtis. Their attempt at becoming the new ‘Boy Division’ didn’t pay off in the respect that they tried to take on Editors’ Chris Urbanowicz’s reeling guitar style either. You just don’t go there. They’re the sort of fashionable band you’d here when perusing through Topshop (listen to ‘Bodies’ and “All the Eastern Girls’), but their complex structures didn’t bring any spark to make them stand out and succeed nowadays. Lady Gaga, however, who’s as mad as a box of frogs, plus, makes good music, is popular for her different and extreme tactics.

The stage transformed and blossomed with birdcages of twinkling fairy lights for a beautiful and delicate ambience for tonight’s main entertainment. It was as though TJF were set to play in your very own living room, that, or it was an impression of the MTV Unplugged stage from back in the day. Thankfully there was also a much healthier crowd numbers wise, as opposed to any other night at The Sugarmill this week which added to the atmosphere. ‘Lovely, lovely Stoke’ we were addressed as, and as for front woman, Ritzy Bryan, well couldn’t you just keep her in a box!? Their rapport with the crowd was delightful and the genuine bond between the band themselves came across as genuine, none of this pretence rubbish, they just perpetuated talent.

Their appeal is obvious and they’re bound to be big in 2011. It’s hats off to NME for finally backing an act on musical merit rather than fashionable merits which quickly fall out of trend. They’d probably be quite fitting on a Twilight soundtrack for their melodramatic, awe-inspiring, dark, transcending, eloquent and sensational qualities. A bit like our ‘Metric’ from this side of the pond; absolutely kaleidoscopic in sound. It’s obvious that their rockin’ out style comes ‘oh so naturally’, with Bryan comfortably and sensually thrusting the guitar like Juanita Stein (Howling Bells) who’s also graced this very stage in the same manner.

Throwing themselves straight into it, their opening track was like an encore performance. They gave it their absolute all, and this was a consistent factor throughout the whole night. I was surprised they were able to play on after putting so much energy and soul into song one alone, and even a slamming guitar from the lead vocalist from the top of speakers. Needless to say the applause was deafening and only grew track by track. On they strode with drum pounds like a call to arms for fans, straight into ‘Cradle’. Ritzy certainly celebrates the return of the female in alternative music, making way for future pioneers. As soon as she picks up that guitar she assumes the position of sonic sorceress and all who listen are weak to her musical prowess.

Announcing the release of their first record in January (and a follow-up tour in February including a Stop at Ye Olde Stoke – injecting yet another buzz into the audience), I only wish it was now as I’d run out and secure a copy and run back for the remainder of the gig. And why? Why do they work? They’re out of the box, not too similar to anything at present, not boring and not unconventional, etcetera, etcetera (see Lady Gaga debate earlier in review). It’s no surprise that for the entirety of the gig all band members wore a stupidly wide grin on their faces as everybody was lapping them up, earning themselves the biggest response to any headlining act at The Sugarmill this week.

Their feisty bassy and punkish beats are ignited by the wild eyes and hair flicks of Miss Byran adding a sultry fire to their strong sound. The standard was so above and beyond expectation, I thought choirs of angels, flowing champagne, cascades of glitter, rainbows and fireworks would appear from the venues ceiling at any moment: true perfection. Then, for a bit of variation, out came the old acoustic guitar for a song intended to be about Christmas, with a Stevie Nicks ‘Edge of Seventeen’ feel to the start. It produced chills of mystery, a song for city nights with big city lights in the heart of the coldest and darkest time of year as it holds a sinister side to it. ‘You make my spirit full’ she repeats at the end; the exact sentiment any crowd member would relay to TJF tonight judged on their appearance, and this can be my Christmas number one any time, any year.

Ritzy really does come across as the pivotal force to the group, kicking some really good rock ass, as we’re all right with her there in the moment as they sing and play with the utmost conviction. As for their energy levels, whatever they’re on I’ll have some; their stamina and consistency was spellbinding let alone their material.

Ending on ‘Whirring’ – ‘All these things about me you never can tell’ resonate as lyrics, as they make you feel compelled to grow a loving connection with the band as a whole and their music. Her whirring contraption was another matter indeed but see that for yourselves when they next stop by. It all came full circle, they started as they meant to go on, giving 10,000% effort, being professional and a true pleasure to have on stage, spoiling us with instrumental flourishes of colour and feeling – if only they could play on!

Last week I said I wanted to marry Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), this week I shall aspire to be Ritzy Bryan.

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