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Live Review and Photos: The Joy Formidable, March 14, 2012, Mayan Theater – Los Angeles, CA

Bills as solid as the one that occurred on Wednesday night at the Mayan in Los Angeles are not a commonplace, particularly one in which all three bands vary in their sound greatly. But, while the synth-based Big Black Delta, the dark-wave of A Place To Bury Strangers, and the radio-ready rock of The Joy Formidable don’t really relate sonically, the three bands created a lively night of music that worked in all three band’s abilities to engage on a large stage, a place that all three are unlikely to inhabit on their own. Indeed, on Wednesday night, there was strength in numbers.

Opening the set was Big Black Delta, the solo project of Jonathan Bates, which live had previously transformed into something bigger, backed by duel percussionists. Playing to his hometown of Los Angeles, where Big Black Delta had recently performed a residency at the small venue The Satellite and opened for M83, Big Black Delta only featured one drummer on this occasion, and virtually no light at all, emphasizing the “Black” in the project’s name. In fact, the only lighting came from four panels of changing lights that only illuminated Bates’ waist, except when he would stoop down to them for some impassioned vocal moments. But, where the audience couldn’t see much of Big Black Delta, it was hard to avoid the sounds that Bates was creating, which formed a larger-than-life sonic spectrum that could easily be compared to their former tour-mates of M83. Bates clearly has the voice to reach the rafters in these larger spaces, and the songs were always engaging. Now, as the band increases their following, we can hope that the next time we take in a Big Black Delta show, they will be seen as well as heard.

Another band that likes darkness is A Place To Bury Strangers, who were illuminated only by a few of their own backing lights and further obscured by a heavy layer of fog. But, like Big Black Delta, A Place To Bury Strangers make up for what you can’t see by bombarding the audience with audial treats. Touring behind their recent EP, Onwards To The Wall, new cut “So Far Away” is an obvious standout and one of the most pop-sensible pieces that the band has composed. But, anyone who has ever seen A Place To Bury Strangers will tell you two things: they are loud and they like to break shit. The hijinks began early when bassist Dion Lunadon made a sudden leap into the photo pit and attempted to stand on the front rail, tumbling a bit onto some photographers and fans. Later, it was Oliver Ackermann who began rearranging speakers to be right in front of the crowd, and both of the primary musicians flung their guitars into the air and onto the ground. As openers, it was a little more low-key than what you get when A Place To Bury Strangers are headliners, but any Joy Formidable fans in attendance with any inclination toward darker music were sure to come away with a new band for their iPod.

It was clear pretty quickly that The Joy Formidable are continuing their upward rise since their last appearance in L.A. For one the venue is bigger. Plus, they now have sticky media passes with their own logo on them. And, probably the biggest indication, was they they now have a giant lighthouse stage prop that lights up. While the lighthouse serves no real purpose besides looking cool, it is nice to see a band reinvesting their earnings on props to make their stage show just a little bigger and a little more memorable.

But, it’s not just props that have The Joy Formidable’s star on the rise. The threesome of Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd, and Matt Thomas are inspired performers, managing to deliver a similar set night in and night out with energy and precision that warrants the big lights and the big stages. Bryan, as a frontwoman, is captivating, stepping away from the microphone to offer rockstar poses and interacting equally with the crowd and her bandmates. And while it is easy from Bryan to steal the show, the band’s setup is such that it places the band members as equals, with even drummer Thomas pushed forward to the front of the stage rather than stuck in the back.

Musically, the night was anything that fans of the band could ask for, featuring the songs from last year’s The Big Roar that has caused so much attention to fall on the band. And, the audience ate up every bit of it, clapping along frequently and bathing in the bright colors and bright sounds coming from the stage. You would have to imagine that this would be the last time the tour would come through Los Angeles, but once thing is for certain: The Joy Formidable have made it and the table is set for them to reach even grander heights when they return with new material.

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