I don't much care for the current trend of 'branding' venues, and I won't refer to a venue by including its ephemeral brand. But Sailor Jerry Rum is not merely adding its name to an event, it is throwing a series of Christmas parties. Each gig, including tonight's with The Joy Formidable, has free admission, a free drink offered for everyone, and a free miniature bottle of Sailor Jerry Rum given to all on the way out. I'm not paying to be advertised to, a company is showing some Christmas goodwill, and I certainly appreciate it.
London has been hit by snow. Although it is hardly blizzard conditions, getting on average only one snowfall a year means that our infrastructure has little opportunity or real need to acclimatise to it. An inch or two of snow can cause considerable problems for our public transport systems. But even if there is some inconvenience in travelling in to Camden for tonight's gig, The Joy Formidable have returned from the playing gigs on the continent to be here, passing through a couple of countries and crossing the Channel overnight. That they are working on almost no sleep for the past couple of days doesn't show when they get on stage, being as vigorous and electrifying as ever.
The set opens with the amazing While the Flies, and immediately it is obvious how important The Joy Formidable are. Although some songs from the band's mini LP A Balloon Called Moaning are played mostly unchanged, The Joy Formidable play to the expectation of a savvy audience. Songs are extended, modified when played for an enthralled crowd, never letting attentions drift in to automatic mode. The studio versions of the songs are shorter, punchier, perfect for home listening, and the live performance rewards an assembled audience by offering a measured extended version, just enough to add extra effect without devaluing the recordings. The Joy Formidable realise the art of performance.
The set list for tonight's gig is not much changed from when The Joy Formidable play the Garage, which doesn't come as a surprise considering they have not stopped touring since then. The order of songs has changed a little, though, with While the Flies opening instead of closing, after which the set quickly moves through Cradle and The Last Drop to Austere. That's not to say The Joy Formidable are simply bashing out some songs. Each one is played with passion and verve, with the audience right there in the moment, even starting the vocal calls before the band on Austere, as soon as they recognise the song.
Ritzy thanks everyone for making it through the adverse weather conditions to be at tonight's gig, adding that 'if you can't get home, maybe we'll just have a lock-in here', before finishing with a huge version of Whirring. The guitars are left in front of the amps, producing booming feedback that only dissipates when The Joy Formidable return to the stage for an encore. 'As we're snowed in, we'll play one more song.' With the feedback now gone, Ritzy realises that 'we're loud tonight. Are the people at the front okay? I hope you don't get tinnitus', although it would be 'an early Christmas present' from the band. It's loud, but it's beautiful. The Joy Formidable end the evening and their last gig of the year with the amazing The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, further justifying their place as my favourite new band.