BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL for the Sun-Times
You never know when or where a star will be born, but I suppose a massive festival is as likely a place as any. It happened Sunday afternoon when Ritzy Bryan, the slight but magnetic front woman of Welsh threesome the Joy Formidable, capped a terrific set of moody, anthemic rock with a memorably cathartic freakout, time and again bashing and finally throwing her electric guitar against an enormous gong (above).
That triumphant meltdown ensured people will be talking about Bryan, but the Joy Formidable was one the best things I've seen all weekend in its own right. A classic trio with Bryan on guitar, Rhydian Dafydd on bass and Matt Thomas on drums, they built long, slow shoegaze swells as Bryan sang in a gauzy tone that belied her pinball stage presence. The Joy Formidable won't break new ground--the Jesus & Mary Chain is an obvious antecedent--but there's always room for another heart-on-sleeve rock'n'roll band that really means it, and Bryan is clearly one to watch.
Next up were the genteel English folk-rockers Noah & the Whale, another earnest outfit from the UK. Charlie Fink delivered aphoristic proclamations ("if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own") in a dour, plain-spoken voice as his band overlaid sturdy, trotting rhythms with resonant keyboard parts and a warm violin. It was pleasant enough, and given the stateside success of Mumford & Sons, there's no reason Fink's five-piece won't continue its rise. But coming so close after Ritzy Bryan, Noah & the Whale seemed pretty prim and bloodless.
Local acts often draw the assignment of playing the day's first set, and today that task fell to Gold Motel. They responded with a set of buoyant piano pop laced with Greta Morgan's self-lacerating lyrics ("I'm a sinking stone/I'd rather be alone than drag you down"), a combination that called to mind Aimee Mann.