The Joy Formidable at The Independent, by Patric Carver
The Joy Formidable (photo: Patric Carver)

The Joy Formidable returned to San Francisco Friday night at the Independent. Tancred was orginaly set to join them as the opening act, but due to a date change Joy Formidable was flying practically solo, with a DJ as their only opener. This was fine, and DJ Omar Perez did a good job of weaving in some more obscure tunes with standards. However, it kind of set the tone for the whole night. Things were good, but they weren’t great.

When I think of the Joy Formidable, I think of a vibrance, a charge intelligence, that is accompanied by this wonderful stamina that helps mature their less-than-standard arrangements and time signatures into beautiful pieces. That stamina is so important because otherwise they’d be producing these B-side oddities that artists often refer to as “experimentation” when they mean “confusion.”

That’s the feeling that stuck with me after leaving the show — confusion. They played the hits from their breakout album, The Big Roar, but each time the songs that had so bedazzled me before felt truncated. There’s lovely moments of dizzying sonic fury in both “Cradle” and “Whirring,” for example, that were simply absent and replaced by somewhat messy guitar play. Don’t get me wrong, it sounded good, but it didn’t sound as good. I’m not one to demand or even expect live shows to sound like the album. In fact, I think that’s pretty boring. However, I do want to be excited by live performance, and nothing about these renditions sent my pulse racing. The same can be said for “A Heavy Abacus.” There was just an element missing — an element that is unique to the Joy Formidable sound.

Playing in support of their new album, Aaarth, provided for somewhat more exciting songs. The highlight for me was “Y Bluen Eira” — this lovely, flowing romantic piece that had the perfect harmonies to accompany any grandiose fairy tale love story. Their new music did pull some punches, and there seemed to be a more eclectic sweep of influences to their sound. Some pieces had almost a Druidic chant feel with the timing of the percussion. However, none screamed as loudly as A Big Roar.

The band mentioned a couple of times preparation for a possible future acoustic tour, and, honestly, this felt a lot like a preparation for that. There were big moments with big sound, but not as profoundly gargantuan as the Joy Formidable is capable. I enjoyed the show, but it didn’t inspire me. I like what they are doing, but I’d like them to do it more.

The Joy Formidable came in on a big wave of sound, I’d hate to see them ebb out onto the shoreline with an ever-lessening power.