I stepped out of my car on Congress Street the night of Oct. 11 to meet an astounding line waiting for entrance into The Rialto Theatre in Downtown Tucson. This was the start of my first concert experience as a member of the press. Although a little nervous, I confidently bypassed the fans eager to see the night’s main act, The Front Bottoms, and ducked under the security belt to receive my special wristband.
I stood around for one hour in the barricade under the sharp blue and hot fuchsia lights until the venue filled up. Vape clouds billowed, couples kissed and I anticipated an awesome show.
The lights dimmed at 7:30 p.m. and young alternative artist Mobley opened first with a passionate set and a few unaddressed, but powerful, political statements.
By 8:15 p.m., the crowd was ready for some Welsh spunk. Lead vocalist and guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan, followed by bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas, set foot on stage to give Tucson a peek into alternative rock band The Joy Formidable. Since 2007, the three musicians from Wales have made up an alternative rock band and are currently touring as the opening act for The Front Bottoms.
The lights turned aqua blue and the band immediately started with a punchy, pizzicato song called “Cradle.” The crowd was immersed in the gentle rock ‘n’ roll of this piece, as were the three band members who became increasingly expressive as the night progressed.
Bryan took a moment after the first song to connect with the audience, sharing personal anecdotes about Tucson and mentioning that she makes frequent trips down here ever since moving to southern Utah. I got the opportunity to meet with Bryan over the phone the previous week, and I appreciated her humility and insightfulness, which was apparent in her performance as well. As an adventurous only child myself, she seemed like someone I could personally relate to, telling me she was an only child who grew up in the outskirts of North Wales, making her “a child of nature.” She was constantly building dens outdoors and climbing trees, which seem to be experiences that inspire her free spirit, especially when it comes to making music.
During another break at the concert, she even asked the audience if we also “play the game” of finding the perfect saguaro while out in the parks like she does. Bryan told me, “Everything is connected” and that she can “find magic and depth in even the smallest things.” When I saw her and her bandmates perform, that passionate appreciation was apparent. Bryan, Dafydd and Thomas were all very in touch with themselves on stage and also connected to one another, creating a full-band sound with just three individuals.
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The Joy Formidable soon followed with “Csts” off their most recent album Into the Blue which was released in 2021. Thomas got the crowd fired up with a solid entrance until Bryan and Dafydd entered intensely through crunchy riffs and wide eyes. At times, I was surprised by the contrast between Bryan’s mellowness while speaking and her fervor as a performer. I truly found it a joy (not so formidable) to see the music transform her. Interestingly enough, Bryan said she never really thought she would be a musician in her youth. She started off as a writer, however, and picked up guitar at the 8 years old. She described it as “two worlds colliding.” Despite finding more intimacy in singing, she says her roots always remain in telling a story, whether vocally or instrumentally.
“Y Bluen Eira,” a Welsh song off their fourth album titled Aaarth, gave the audience a jolt. It was mysterious, seeing as it was performed in an unfamiliar language and in a whisper, which contradicted the repeated rich guitar riff of the chorus. With “Sevier,” or what Bryan called “a song about a shitty breakup,” the crowd was once again hyped and met with smiles from the band members themselves.
The band not only produced a memorable sound but also has carefully curated lyrics. When asked whether her lyrics work around the instrumentals or if the lyrics come first, Bryan mentioned that the process is varied. She finds the importance of not being too formulaic because the variety will make for more dynamic writing. Like all artists, though, Bryan experiences writer’s block at times. She says the best way to get out of such a funk is to “not worry about it.” According to her practices, overthinking brings on stress which is a “total energy suck.” If you do things to take your mind off the writer’s block and let the moment pass, you will find balance once again.
Another track off of Into the Blue called “Gotta Feed my Dog” was one of the night’s topics of conversation. While bassist Dafydd provided a soft ambient tune, Bryan recounted the time of quarantine during which she fostered several dogs. She related to us by adding that it feels better to fall asleep next to an animal instead of a human sometimes.
In our interview, Bryan said Into the Blue “chronicles growth and feeling more free and confident.” With the inability to tour during the COVID-19 days, she finally had time for positive introspection, telling me that, as a musician, you “wear a lot of heads and are involved in every aspect of being an artist.” She embraced the “need to be shocked into a realization” and believes that getting past the moments that make you scared gives way to opportunities for positive change.
As the end of their set approached, The Joy Formidable delighted the audience with their top song “Whirring” from their 2011 album The Big Roar. For nearly five minutes, Thomas impressed everybody with a drum break accompanied by an intense flow of guitar and bass from Dafydd and Bryan.
Since seeing The Joy Formidable in concert, I have willingly tuned in to their music, both new and old. They possess the necessary elements of rock — the energetic delivery, fast rhythm and blasting instruments — with an added indie flare of eccentricity. Bryan reminisced on her childhood, saying she avidly listened to the library of vinyls her parents collected. The most memorable listens for her were musicians like Van Morrison, Patti Smith, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, Talking Heads and The Cure. If you identify with the sounds of any of these artists — and even if you have no idea who any of them are — I can confidently say that The Joy Formidable is easily lovable. Take my word for it, and check out their latest album Into the Blue on streaming services everywhere.
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Noor Haghighi is a second-year student exploring ways to harness her passions in environmental science and journalism. She loves wildlife photography and portraiture, fashion, music and film.