Google, the benevolent overlord to which I bow when defining words as well as sending email, looking up directions, drafting documents, scheduling appointments, checking the weather and charting my life trajectory, defines “formidable” like this: “Inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.” (Like Google.) Which makes me wonder if Rhydian Dafydd was trolling me when he said his Welsh rock trio doesn’t explicitly attempt to sound humongous.
Another thing that made me think that: The band sounded humongous Saturday. Closing out CD102.5 Day’s Second Dose, they lobbed bomb after bomb, sending old-fashioned dinosaur rock power rippling toward the rafters. This was my third experience with The Joy Formidable, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise to witness their post-shoegaze arena rock blowing the roof off. But it was my first time seeing them so close to a roof; watching a roomful of humans lose their minds to spunky post-Pumpkins anthem detonations from LC Pavilion’s balcony made me think the concept of “arena rock” might not be dead, even half its most famous practitioners are.
The Joy Formidable, though, was thoroughly alive, gleefully indulging in (resurrecting?) rock clichés from Ritzy Bryan knocking over her amp to Bryan and Dafydd taking turns running into the audience letting fans wring noise from their instruments. And don’t forget the gong. (For rock drummers, the addition of a gong is the point of no return, the moment when you cross over from mild-mannered skinsman to bloviated Neil Peart disciple, forever locked in a percussive prison of racks on racks on racks.) Being the singer and guitarist, Bryan is also the star. She owned it — prancing and stomping, throwing shade and cracking smiles.
The novelty of the band’s sheer sonic and emotional power, strong as it may be, would wear off eventually if not for a batch of songs worthy of being broadcast so jubilantly, though none of the Wolf’s Law jams has yet surpassed breakthrough single “Whirring,” which closed out the encore Saturday. By the time that one had fully dissolved into static and the band was smiling and waving, it was hard to imagine anyone but the harshest cynic resisting the euphoria.
Still buzzing, I zigged and zagged across a few downtown blocks to The Bluestone, where RJD2 was playing a hometown gig. His old MHz cohort Copywrite was on stage when I arrived. I only caught a miniscule portion of his performance, but he seemed nearly as buoyant as the band I had just been watching across town.
RJ came out in his MPC robot suit to introduce the set, which was funny and pleasant as an intro but rightfully retired after that. From then on out it was RJ flexing on four turntables, eventually supplemented by live drums from fellow Columbus expat Chuck Palmer as explained in last week's interview. At one point RJ’s Soul Position associate Blueprint showed up to perform “Final Frontier” off of Deadringer; I was hoping for a Copywrite cameo to perform “June” too considering the guy was in the building and all, but maybe they did that during Copy’s set and I missed it? [UPDATE: That's exactly what happened.] Credit RJ for knowing exactly how far to push his skill set before deploying the accessories. The guest stars went a long way toward livening up what was essentially a DJ set with flashes of turntablism.
His music held its own, though; from the early appearance of his retroactive “Mad Men” theme “A Beautiful Mine” to late crowd-pleasers “The Horror,” “Ghostwriter” and the climactic “Good Times Roll Pt. 2.” Since this was an entirely turntable-driven performance, the set focused on RJ’s early work from before he incorporated rock instrumentation, which kind of sucks because musicians should be able to perform new music they’re excited about, but also kind of rules because Deadringer remains RJ’s best work by far.
He was greeted by an audience probably half the size of the 2,000+ who had packed into the LC, but he seemed no less gratified by their warm welcome. He went 90 minutes, which is way too long for a performance of this sort, but rather than drag on, it floated past me in a cloud of positive vibes. This was a hometown hero, a guy who's fought his way to a viable music career without big corporate backing or media cheerleading, parading through the music that put him on the map. The good times, like RJ's career, kept rolling.