The Lexington in North London seems a strange place for a band who can now be truly described as ‘global’ to play a combination of a ‘homecoming’ gig and a pre-Reading/Leeds warm-up gig. ‘Strange’ because said band, The Joy Formidable, could sell this place out 50 times over. It feels appropriate. though. in that they get up-close and personal with a pretty loyal following who have seen them transplant themselves to the US for an extended period of time. It’s also not exactly a ‘homecoming’ seeing as two of the band are from Wales but as North London is definitely their preferred location for London gigs, it’ll do as a description, for now.
The sense of anticipation is palpable tonight as the audience shuffle around, on the verge of storming the stage, long before the band are even seen (although two of them are content mixing with us pre-gig, almost as if they’re not the subject of nudges, whispered conversation and pointing). On the stroke of 9.15pm they ‘bound’ onstage (yes, I used that old cliché) and manage to deliver a set of stunning simplicity, raw, almost feral, emotion and with a few new songs thrown into the mix too. Diminutive singer Ritzy (a modern-day Barbara Windsor for the ‘teenies’) is a thundering mass of energy, pausing in her blur of activity only on those occasions when the sweat-puddles from bassist Rhyddian cause her to slip or slide to her knees.
This feels like a band who are renewed in their energy, potentially as a result of the release that returning to home soil delivers, but especially after a long period in the wilderness (literally) of Portland, Maine, writing their second album. Clearly their period in this environment has had an impact when you see some of the newer songs are called ‘Porcupine’ and ‘Hedgehog’.
An encore delivers a drummer-less acoustic track called ‘Wolf’s Law’ with Ritzy abandoning her guitar. It’s a strange venue and audience that can have a song like this played without the almost incessant burble and chatter that oftens drowns moments such as these. Informing us that this track is also the new album’s title raises the feeling that tonight has been pretty special, pretty intimate, and a pretty good return home.
With rumours of a UK tour this October, this will be the test of whether such a prolonged absence from these shores has caused anyone to overlook, or forget, The Joy Formidable. As the night closes with a raucous, almost violent, version of ‘Ever Changing Spectrum Of A Lie’ it’s clear that despite the potential for their recent explosion of popularity across the world to cause them to stay away even longer, The Joy Formidable clearly love being here; the affection is returned, magnified, and it feels as if they never went away.
Words and photos by Dan Aitch