The Joy Formidable with Kitten @ The Vic, 4/2/2013

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It’s been a long time since I saw a rock show at The Vic. I want to say the last thing I saw even close to rock was Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band, and that definitely falls more in the folk end of the spectrum. Other than that, Jeff Tweedy solo and Childish Gambino were my last ventures to one of the finest venues in the city, so I was happy to be back. This was kind of a rush job, as I didn’t find out until Tuesday afternoon that I would be going to the show a few hours later. I was pretty excited to check out The Joy Formidable again, though. In the two years since I last saw them, their star has risen faster and higher than most.

The opener was a band from Los Angeles called Kitten. I’d never heard of them before, but they’ve been together four years already. They bill themselves as indie rock, but I’d say it’s closer to a dance rock vibe-or like a more rock n roll version of Beach House, with guitarist Waylon Rector providing more electricity in one solo than most bands do in a whole record. Their EP, Cut It Out, plays a lot smoother than their frantic live set, but it lacks the punch that they supply on stage. Most of that wallop comes in the form of Chloe Chaidez. She moved around so much up there that I thought she might be part shark, unwilling to stop for fear of death. She sang and screamed and shook until everyone in the audience was filled with as much energy as her.

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What I liked about their set was that they didn’t mess around. They appear to be a band that’s at that point where this tour could either propel them to the next step, or have them back in LA at square one. And they didn’t play it safe. They came out balls-to-the-wall from start to finish and acted like they belonged on that stage. If I ever had any advice to give, it would be for all opening acts to attack their sets with the fervor that Kitten does. (also, covering “Purple Rain” never hurts)

Second up was a band called Guards. They weren’t listed on the bill I saw, so I wasn’t expecting them (maybe the big drum set in the middle of the stage that said Guards should have tipped me off). New York-based, the music is a bit of a hodgepodge to me. There’s 60’s psych-rock, Ramones-style punk, and late 00’s indie rock all mixed into one. They have a lot going on in their live set, and I think it just wasn’t mixed all that well. The result was a forty minute set that felt like two hours and was far more interesting to the band than it was to the audience. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was an off night, because listening to their most recent release, In Guards We Trust, they sound much better.

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After a long break between sets, the three members of The Joy Formidable came out one at a time to raucous applause. They’ve played Chicago a ton over the last few years, and I think they like the city as much as it’s fans like them (they’ll be back again in June for Taste Of Randolph Street). The only other time I’ve seen them play was at Schubas, which holds about one twentieth of the capacity at The Vic. With only three members, it was hard trying to figure out how they would fill up all that space. Then I remembered, Ritzy Bryan is a whirling dervish of a human being(?) who chews up every inch of whatever stage she’s on. In what is now predictable fashion she came out last, strapped on her guitar and commenced melting faces.

The band did a great job of mixing the new songs from Wolf’s Law with their older material. They led it off with “Cholla” from the new album then went all the way back to the beginning for “Austere.” They jumped back to the present for one of my favorite songs of 2012, “The Ladder Is Ours.” The toughest thing for me during these first three songs is that I was in the photo pit trying to take pictures, and that makes it very hard to rock out. Trying not to move my head or tap my toes too much so I don’t screw up a shot is infuriating, but it must be done. It’s even more difficult when the band is wailing away on some great tunes.

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After we got kicked out of the pit, I moved to the back of the venue. I couldn’t see much, but I could hear everything and it sounded great. “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade” may have been my favorite of what I got to hang around for. Unfortunately TJF didn’t hit the stage until well after 10pm, and I could hear my inner-brain saying “You know we have to work tomorrow, right?” So I stuck around through eight songs, finding a happy medium between pleasure and guilt.

They have the ability to out-noise bands that are double or triple their size, and they seem to take a great amount of joy in performing. “Tendons” was the last song I got to hear before taking off, and I was glad to hear the loud/soft dynamic play out well over the speakers. Their tour continues through May, and if you have the opportunity I would recommend you go check them out. You can pick up their latest release, Wolf’s Law, on iTunes or at your local record store.

If you’d like to see more photos from the show, check out my sets from Kitten and The Joy Formidable.

SETLIST

Cholla

Austere

This Ladder Is Ours

The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shad

Little Blimp

Cradle

While The Flies

Tendons

Silent Treatment

Maw Maw Song

I Don’t Want To See You Like This

The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie

ENCORE

Forest Serenade

Wolf’s Law

Whirring

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