Last night, Koko played host to an all star lineup. Usually featuring NME’s en-vogue bands or opening the floor for Club NME, Camden’s venue of choice was blessed with two fantastic acts, The Joy Formidable and Passion Pit.
The Joy Formidable
The Joy Formidable is one of those bands. The North Wales trio arrived in 2007, after a name change, some personnel changes and some time spent honing their skills. From that point on, the accolades fell at their feet. The Guardian‘s “ones to watch,” a regular top spot on Steve Lamacq’s Radio 1 show, and NME’s backing ensure that it’s not a case of if, but when.
They took this support slot and gave it their all, practically assaulting their home crowd with a combination of pure verve and intense musicality. As expected, they opened with “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade”, a 5 minute opus that opens their recent EP, A Balloon Called Moaning.
Lead singer Ritzy is captivating, a peroxide blond with bangs who has been grunged up. She can shred, too. They are a tight knit group (Ritzy and bassist Rhydian are an item) and it shows. It’s a team effort; everything is done in house (the T-shirts, the album artwork, even the production).
They make a heck of a lot of noise for 3 people. The Joy Formidable do for three what The White Stripes did for two. The music is epic, occasionally dark, but always fun. Crucially, there is no let up in the set: they have very little time with which to steal our approval.
The set was capped off with “Whirring”, which gradually transformed into a shredding session. As they left the stage, the instruments were strategically giving off feedback. There is unfinished business here.
Passion Pit had to bring its A-game tonight. During their first headlining date in February 2009, lead singer Michael Angelakos was heard muttering “stone cold London” as the crowd wasn’t warming up to the band. There was latent tension in the air — the band’s last performance in London was back in July, less than two months after the release of Manners; the reception was warmer, but still far from where it should have been. The band was struggling to find their feet.
Last night’s edition of Passion Pit was reborn. Electronic, experimental albums such as Manners often take months of grueling refinement before they click on stage. And Passion Pit has another layer of complexity in their vocalist. Their music is built around Angelakos’ voice. If he’s off point, so is the entire performance. He was clearly feeling the pressure, letting us know that we “scared the shit out of him”.
They were almost 30 minutes late on-stage, however, a move which annoyed native Kokoers, expecting the usual punctuality. Finally emerging from the wings, they started the set with minimal interaction. The nerves took over and the first two tracks slipped by, although Angelakos was easily hitting all the high notes. Once the opening synths of “Make Light” were fired up, they knew everything was going to be okay. They loosened up a bit, exchanging smiles, and letting us know how cool we were.
The quintet still rely on a Macbook to cue some samples, a set-up that has caused problems in the past. Fortunately, everything ran to plan. “Little Secrets” had the crowd jumping and the sultry synths really hit the spot on a cold Tuesday night. Passion Pit has been using the same setlist for much of 2009, and we can only assume that they are saving their new material for their next tour. Whilst it was a shame not to hear anything fresh, the setlist highlights how strong the majority of their songs are. Culling from both their sole album and previous EP, it was a slick performance.
“Sleepyhead” offered the first true singalong moment, a true crowd anthem with the brilliant Mary O’Hara sample. They then left the stage after a heavy interpretation of Chunk of Change track, “Smile Upon Me”. After an extremely quick rest (perhaps too much so, they could have had us chanting a little more!), they traipsed back on for a two track encore. The night closed with “The Reeling”, which only truly got the crowd jumping during the refrain. It was a reminder of Passion Pit’s fragility — when everything is together, they can deliver some of the most enjoyable and sonically interesting music out there. Yet because of the complexity of their music, they tread a knife edge during each performance.
Passion Pit Setlist:
Eyes As Candles
Live To Tell The Tale
I’ve Got Your Number
Let Your Love Grow Tall
To Kingdom Come
Folds In Your Hands
Smile Upon Me