After two years away, Welsh trio The Joy Formidable returned to the Capital Region on Sunday night a much more powerful band.
Performing at Upstate Concert Hall before a sparse crowd filling just under half the venue, the band slammed and snarled its way through tracks from the new album “Wolf’s Law” released this past winter, and old favorites from their 2011 debut “The Big Roar.”
The two years of roadwork between albums was evident from the tight interplay among members and the overall cohesion in sound. It’s not that these things didn’t exist when the band played Valentine’s in early 2011 — the band has simply refined its attack, as any young band will after spending some time on the touring circuit.
Not only was the band’s signature wall of noise just plain noisier, the subtler moments had more texture, too — from the prerecorded sound collages and readings that steadily rang through the PA system during and between songs to the songs themselves, many of which featured piano and acoustic guitar from bassist Rhydian Dafydd. Older material got updated as well — set closer “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” mutated into a stinging jam, with vocalist/guitarist Ritzy Bryan slamming out cacophonous chords and leads over Dafydd and drummer Matthew Thomas’ sludgy rhythms.
The band hit the stage swinging just after 9:30, pinning the audience to the walls with the unbelievable volume of “Cholla.” Even after opening bands RIBS and Team Spirit, who were no slouches themselves in the volume department, the force coming off the stage from The Joy Formidable was, well, formidable to say the least. An edgy version of “Austere” from the first album followed, with Bryan rushing back and forth onstage, wild-eyed, slamming her fist into her guitar over and over.
The catchy “This Ladder is Ours” and “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” continued to pummel the crowd into submission, but little atmospheric pieces began poking their way through the continuous noise. Bryan’s guitar playing is mostly of the punk rock bashing variety, but the overtones she created out of her hulking chords and brutish distortion brought out interesting textures in songs like “Little Blimp.”
Dafydd is the band’s VIP — in addition to anchoring the low end, he provided much of the subtle shading in these songs, kicking off “Tendons” with a distorted vocal line that slowly morphed into the song’s main instrumental hook. His most impressive moment came on “Silent Treatment,” when he pulled out the aforementioned acoustic and used the ever-present loop machines onstage to create a much gentler, but no less dense, wall of sound.
The calmest moment of the evening was followed by the heaviest, the thundering “Maw Maw Song.” A crawling riff punctuated by Dafydd’s nonsensical hook (hence the song’s title) gave way to sped-up verses, before the song collapsed into another noise jam led by Bryan’s fuzzed-out guitar.
The evening kicked off at 7:30 with Boston’s RIBS, a power trio like The Joy Formidable, combining grungy riffs with haunting counterpoint harmony vocals. Their best moment came on “Alarms,” a WEQX-single led by an ever-evolving bass groove. Brooklyn’s Team Spirit were up next, injecting the evening with goofy punk attitude and fiery twin guitar riffs on songs such as “F*** the Beach.”