REVIEW: The Joy Formidable moans once more at The Chapel

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable performs at The Chapel in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 2019. Onome Uyovbievbo/Staff.

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s become accepted with so-called record anniversary tours that the album being performed—usually in full and beginning to end—is getting a victory lap, with the attendees marveling at in all its accomplished glory, from the hits to the deep cuts. That’s not what The Joy Formidable is after on its current tour for the 10-year-anniversary of the band’s debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning.

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable performs at The Chapel in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 2019

At the penultimate tour stop at The Chapel, the Welsh trio played the eight songs on the record like they still had something to prove.

Wordlessly taking the stage, singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Davies and drummer Matthew Thomas wasted no time jumping into the record with the first three songs: “The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade,” “Cradle” and “Austere.” The acoustics inside The Chapel’s sanctuary were perfectly synced with the band, allowing the The Joy Formidable’s loudness to come across cleanly, which in turn allowed Davies’ bass riffs to shine on the first and third songs, while each hit of Thomas’ heart-pumping drum fills was enunciated, never overpowering Bryan’s singing.

The band didn’t address the room until after these first three songs, but once they started riffing with each other between songs like best friends killing time in a bedroom, they couldn’t stop.

“It’s all bullocks,” Bryan said of also-popular farewell tours, commenting how many acts seemingly want to cash in one last time, or simply return a year later despite having called it quits. “If we ever do a farewell tour tour, you’re never going to see me again.”

The thought, while delivered as a joke, delivered two truths. One: The Joy Formidable is not close to calling it a day. Two: Bryan hasn’t considered playing with anyone else. It’s this band or bust.

Following “While the Flies,” Bryan recalled how the last time the band played the room, she was so sick that she had to down an entire bottle of olive oil to make her voice last through the end of the show. That’s as much of an introduction that “Whirring,” the band’s first hit, received. The song capped the first third of the set with euphoric, unadulterated guitar rock that accelerated into a tailspin at its end and was punctuated with a gong hit.

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable performs at The Chapel in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 2019.

The following “9669” had softly sung back-and-forth vocals by Bryan and Davies as a mirrorball bathed the room in specks of light.

“We chose this song on the EP for a love song, back when we believed in love, said Bryan, who was previously in a relationship with Davies.  The trio went on joking and poking fun at each other between songs. At one point Bryan accused Thomas of “only half-hitting the drums” as a retort to something he said in a thick Welsh accent.

The Joy Formidable concluded the EP with the shoegazy “The Last Drop,” which Bryan described as being a “reflective song about the meaning of life,” and closer “Ostrich.” Because the show was, at this point, only about 40 minutes old, the band rolled right into “Y Bluen Eira,” the menacing metal-sounding rocker off The Joy Formidable’s newest album, AAARTH. Bryan delivered the vocals in a spoken delivery. The song was the most unique of the evening. While the others were euphoric or exhilarating, this one was relatively frightening.

The pace changed again with “I Don’t Want to See You Like This” and “The Leopard and the Lung,” a keyboard-led, heartstrings-tugging tune with ringing glockenspiel that was played live on the spot by Thomas rather than being piped in. Still, the band wasn’t done; taking an audience request of “A Heavy Abacus” (no, really, Bryan and co. had been saving it for the encore at recent shows but broke it out early), as well as a couple other fan favorites.


Twen performs at The Chapel in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 2019

Nashville-by-way-of-Boston garage band Twen opened the show with a set of lo-fi tunes, after first battling some sound issues and then taking a couple of songs to warm up. Twen’s songs were a blend of tough-round the edges jangle-pop, reverb-laden vocals and grunge. Vocalist Jane Fitzsimmons and guitarist Ian Jones, backed by a drummer and bassist, concluded with two of their poppier tunes, “Damsel” and “Waste.”

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