Thursday 22 January 2009

The Joy Formidable / It Hugs Back / Theoretical Girl - Wilmington Arms - 21 Jan 2009

Joy Formidable pic by Joseph Hughes

This is a new venue for me, positioned slightly awkwardly midway between Farringdon and Kings Cross. However, the performance space at The Wilmington Arms is pleasingly small and agreeably run, and it is only due to the calibre of the acts tonight that it gradually becomes uncomfortably rammed by the end of the evening.

First up we have Theoretical Girl aka Amy Turnnidge. Coping gracefully under pressure is the mark of good performer and tonight she certainly has plenty of opportunity to display this ability. For starters, most of her band, The Equations have forsaken the delights of Clerkenwell for the pleasures of the ski slope, so tonight she is only accompanied (very ably, I might add) by Kelly, who smiles sardonically in the face of mounting difficulty.

Lacking a band, Theoretical Girl have to rely on backing tapes and these become a problem throughout the set, with sound levels on stage fluctuating or disappearing. Nearly every song features a perfectly sung passage that goes “Is this monitor working? …etc”.

In such trying circumstances the pair perform valiantly, and songs such as Hypocrite and Red Mist still come across very well. Here’s to the next time.

Due to a late flurry of media buzz, the running order tonight has been altered, and previously announced headliners It Hugs Back find themselves demoted to the middle spot. This I find to be a great pity.

With their predominantly acoustic-y sound and quiet vocals, It Hugs Back are a bit drippy. In fact they are so wet that we are issued with wellies and life jackets. Jacques Cousteau is seen going down for the third time, mouthing “They’re too wet!”

Suffice to say I find them a tough watch. If I was feeling charitable I would acknowledge that they make the sort of gentle undemanding sort of music that might be unobtrusively played in a coffee house on a warm Sunday morning, music that doesn’t need to be consciously listened to, but which twitters away in the background.

But I’m not that charitable, and I’m glad when they are over.

I first saw tonight’s headliners in an empty Barfly towards the end of 2007 when they were still called Sidecar Kisses. They showed a lot of promise and had a couple of really good songs in ‘Austere’ and ‘Cradle’.

In the year since then the band have gone away, and have obviously fiercely honed themselves into an act to be reckoned with via a Rocky-style montage of log sawing, meat thumping and step running. They are now called The Joy Formidable and great things are expected.

The focus of the band is the diminutive Ritzy, who may seem rather unassuming when off duty, but once she has a guitar in her hand and a crowd before her, commands all before her. Her eyes rake the crowd like lasers and fanboys swoon.

Colleague Rhydian pounds at his bass and thrashes against the speakers. The sound that comes forth is a dreamy wash punctuated with bursts of feedback and noise. It is all rather wonderful, and it is a shame that quite a lot of it seems to be pre-recorded.

In fact it is only this ‘Is it live or is it Memorex?’ conundrum that mitigates against an otherwise terrific performance from the band tonight. When Ritzy jumps off the stage and charges off through the tightly packed crowd with her instrument, you are momentarily tempted to ponder whether it was ever actually plugged in in the first place.

At the moment this is a minor quibble. The songs are great, although ‘Austere’ is still the best one, and the band have certainly got the charisma and confidence that will ensure that they are unlikely to play a venue as small as this again anytime soon.

A mostly fine evening and I extend my admiration to the girl from Clang who is running proceedings tonight- she does everything from taking money on the door, helping the bands set up to moving through the crowd with plates of soup. A trouper indeed.

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