For the low, low price of $9.99, Joie de Vivre’s show at Township on Feb. 21 delivered a mega-punch of emo-goodness, but not because of the headliner.
Even though local darling Joie de Vivre of Rockford, Ill. headlined the show, shoddy vocal delivery and songs that sounded exactly the same made the performance underwhelming. Joie de Vivre’s set was outshone by the openers, particularly Island of Misfit Toys and Foxing.
The first act, Island of Misfit Toys, set the bar extremely high for the rest of the night.
It started a little awkwardly; with no warning, singer Anthony Sanders belted too loudly over an acoustic guitar and the room, which had been buzzing a second before, fell silent. But he quickly found his footing as the rest of the band picked up the song. By the time Sanders sang the chorus, “You flaunt your bounty ounce for ounce / I want her body ounce for ounce,” the floor rumbled to the time of audience members stomping and jumping.
Sanders has a warm and emotional voice that cracks just right, and his energy with the audience is something you have to see for yourself. The only downsides to Misfit Toys’ set was Julia Bard’s lackluster backup vocals and the sometimes overwhelming brassiness of complementary instruments, which made a few songs sound too busy. Still, the full-band harmonies were expertly performed, and the set was so dynamic and unique that a few mistakes didn’t cause any lasting harm.
“Burble,” a song from Misfit Toys’ upcoming album, had, as the band said on its Facebook, a “super-fun shout-along part.” The pop-punk melody fell away halfway through the song and the band picked up a rousing chant: “How could you expect me to do all my talents promised? / How could you expect perfection when I’m Gemini dishonest? / How can I do better than my best? I’m just a kid, I’m just a kid / I’ve always been.” Once again, the whole floor trembled with the weight of stomping feet as the chant built upward, breaking into an explosive chorus where Sanders completely let loose.
He wasn’t the only one getting down. Later, percussionist Ashlee Stewack played percussion like she was on a heavy-metal drum set. As far as playing dainty instruments energetically goes, her passion was rivaled only by the way La Dispute vocalist Jordan Dreyer goes to town with his tambourine.
The next act, Special Explosion, was underwhelming. Perhaps the band was out of its element—after a transportation incident, it was borrowing Foxing’s equipment. The set sounded fine, but only fine. If you’re following an act as memorable as Misfit Toys, it takes a little more than slow jams to impress, even if they sound nice and crunchy. There was no energy or emotion, no oomph to the music.
The show picked back up when Foxing took the stage. The band didn’t waste any time amping up the energy, starting with the hardcore breakdown of “Inuit.” Comparing the live sound to the album is like comparing the ocean to a swimming pool. Everything was amplified and intensified to the nth degree.
Singer Conor Murphy looked practically possessed when he played the trumpet, arching backwards, running his free hand through his hair like Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally.
He was already breathless after the first song, but he poured more and more energy into the set as it went on, like he was pouring out his soul.
On fan favorites “The Medic” and “Rory” (the latter closed the set), Murphy grabbed an audience member’s head and leaned in forehead-to-forehead as the rest of the crowd piled around intensely. His voice was raw and unpolished, taking a hit at times (like when he played some energetic percussion on “Rory” while singing), but always dripping with emotion. Guitarist Eric Hudson was off in his own world, swaying and rocking as if getting high off his guitar strums.
After witnessing Foxing’s live act, sitting through Joie de Vivre’s set was nearly torturous, in large part due to singer Brandon Lutmer’s vocals, which sounded completely shot; they were flat and droning, and only sounded decent when he was screaming rather than singing (which is probably how his voice ended up like that in the first place).
Coincidentally, the first line sung was, “I won’t always feel this underwhelmed,” an unintentional synopsis of the show to come.
The instrumentation was solid and energetic on the breakdowns, but almost every song sounded identical, using the same few chord progressions. At one point, Lutmer acknowledged that he was losing his voice and when the music picked up again, it was impossible to tell whether it was a new song or if Joie de Vivre had stopped in the middle of a track and picked it back up.
The highlight was on the epic climax of “Upper Deck San Diego,” where trumpet blasts occasionally floated above the din, adding a beautiful and subtle touch to the song. To be fair, not everyone found Joie de Vivre’s set disappointing; fans were crowd-surfing sporadically and cheering at the first few strums of every song. One wasted gentleman leaned back against the bar and poured his soul into the chorus of “Handshakes.”
Still, after the show the opening acts put on, Joie de Vivre’s act was disappointing. Even Special Explosion’s lackluster set was miles ahead of the headliner’s shoddy delivery. Island of Misfit Toys’ dynamic performance and the raw passion of Foxing left Joie de Vivre struggling to deliver, and the end result was unimpressive.