The Joy Formidable at Highbury and Islington Garage

1st October 2009 – 5.26 pm

The Highbury and Islington Garage has been refurbished. The small and dingy venue is now small and airy, the low ceiling remodelled to be an arcing ceiling that allows for a proper lighting rig in front of the stage, black walls repainted white, and wooden flooring everywhere. Overall, the changes are attractive, although I'm not sure the designers understood that hundreds of people would be spilling lager at each gig, causing the wooden floors to become slick.

There are, however, two disappointing changes to the venue's renovation. First, there is now one of these modern barriers in front of the stage, a bulky metallic structure apparently designed to stop articulated lorries from crossing a central reservation, and even though we are hardly separated from the front of the stage in such a small venue, the gap being only a few feet, the fact that there is a gap removes the intimacy once offered. Second, the venue is now branded. I go to a venue to support and enjoy a band, not a product. Tonight, I am here to see The Joy Formidable.

The band are apparently a little late getting on stage, but once they appear The Joy Formidable open with The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, the first track from debut album A Balloon Called Moaning. It makes sense that a song that kicks off the album should also start the gig, but it just seems too damned good to waste just getting everyone warmed up. But the refrain of 'I can be happy for you' is such an uplifting, positive ending that it can't help but make you feel good. And, if anything, playing The Greatest Light... first is an indication of how strong The Joy Formidable's repertoire is, as the set gets stronger and stronger with each song.

Cradle delivers another mighty punch of exuberance, before The Joy Formidable stray from their album track list, just as I was beginning to wonder if the live album being recorded tonight was going to be a live rendition of the studio album. In case some people are unaware of the recording of the night's performance, for a live album to be released next month, Ritzy asks the excited audience 'You know this is being recorded?' The howls and whistles in reply indicate that even if we didn't know we are definitely happy to be heard. 'This is the cheesy audience participation moment', she continues, spinning the mic stand around to capture a chorus of voices for Austere. Maybe the recording will also pick up a consequence of Ritzy's vigorous playing, as her guitar pulls the mic off Matt's high tom in the same song.

The raucous applause, calls and whistles continue throughout the gig, the rousing music driving the audience to cheer more, just as the electric atmosphere urges The Joy Formidable to push themselves even harder. Ritzy is happy to encourage us, saying 'You're so loud, I fucking love this!' Whirring, The Last Drop and While the Flies all get played during the evening, but it is during the last song that Ritzy does her impression of David Walliams in Spaced, announcing to increasing applause that 'We haven't finished'. There's no response from her guitar, though. 'There's always a problem', Ritzy says with some humour, as she tries to rectify the current one by twiddling effects pedal knobs and checking leads.

In the end, it turns out that 'the fucking amp's blown', but they try to finish the song without the guitar. A short vocal refrain cues an explosion of drums and bass guitar, punctuated by guitars dropped on to the stage as the band walk off. The blown amplifier means no encore for us tonight, although an air of expectation hangs for several minutes after The Joy Formidable are gone. It's a rock ending to an energetic and successful gig, one that I look forwards to reliving with the release of the live CD.

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