The Joy Formidable, no support

Miss Fliss 11/09/2009

We could be in reception class at school, the way singer Ritzy encourages us to all form a circle: 'Come on, everyone gather round. Sit down if you want. Get in a circle' As if on the spot, The Joy Formidable have decided to abandon the backroom pedestal of the stage inside Pure Groove record store in favour of the friendlier situation of sitting in the middle of the shop floor closely surrounded by fans.

At our centre, the three formidable joy-makers burst into the most intimate and precious gig I've seen in all my years. We could be in a friend's living room. Ritzy's big grey eyes twinkle under subtle lights as she looks right at us, seemingly individually, as the gig-goer would look at the band, and ultimately reversing the roles. The looks are transfixing. She's unafraid and wants to connect direct with the gathered crowd.

The set comprises the bare bones of acoustic guitars (including one as big as the tiny Ritzy), a wooden box/tambourine combo operated by drummer Matt's feet, and the nakedness of Ritzy's voice. It's this last that carries most weight; it's more powerful than ever - as rousing and strong as it is amidst the fuzzy squall of guitar energy, rather than stripped down, yet has the added poignancy of carrying human emotion laid bare.

Whirring sounds at its best done acoustically. Propulsive rock is replaced with tender slow care, revealing sad beauty in place of feistiness. New song Spectrum is delivered with such personal touch - Ritzy gazing around wide-eyed as if in sudden realisation and fear of how close she is to us (all but brushing shoulders and within whispering distance), and yet enjoying the power it creates - that the gut-felt melancholy portrayed can hit us to the point of hurting. It's as direct as you can get, we're wired to the troubled heart of the character in the song. So moving is it, I can't be the only one on the verge of bursting shamelessly into tears. It's rare to have music performed to you so openly that it feels like yourself and the music are the only things in the room, and the music is just for you.

The mood changes with the transition from acoustic intimacy to electric gig, and soon there's all the moshing and movement of an ordinary gig. The barriers are up, so to speak, and the normal divide between band and fans is restored until Ritzy talks to us personally again, with the tone of a mate. The band have made mask and she wants us all ('no fucking exceptions!', she sternly half-jokes) to wear one. Long-nosed animal faces are passed around as if we're kids at a birthday party. It takes a while to realise that the masks are of greyhounds - cue a rendition of epic, percussive new single Greyhounds in the Slips (the download version of which features one Paul Draper). At the end of the song Ritzy swearily demands all masks that sneakily slid off are put back on so she can take a photo!

It's onto the beautiful melodic chaos ofAustere. Then a tearing through of the riproaring stomp of Cradle which closes the evening's set, as pleaded for by the crowd. It's a mighty pop beast and one of their signature tunes. On the way home on the tube, I looked up at one point to see a refined silver greyhound had joined us in the carriage. Sleek of fur and keen of eye, the canine made for a stunning sight; the perfect end to a great night. And surely a sign.

Download the new single 'Greyhounds in the Slips' from the band's Myspace now:

The Joy Formidable Myspace