Fitting a holiday music show, joy was prevalent inside the sold-out Midland theater Saturday night.
The second night of the three-night “The Buzz Stole XXMas” featured five bands and more than 5½ hours of music. On a weekend when it was most needed, what was rendered was the kind of primal bliss that only music can deliver.
The headliner was Grouplove, a five-piece based in Los Angeles and one in a growing population of bands with several things in common: fruity melodies, gang vocals (three or four people singing together), heavy percussion, handclaps and simple, catchy choruses, all sprinkled with lots of la-la-las and ooh-ooh-oohs — components that elicit a child-like response from audiences primed for it. The one-hour set was like some communal food fight, pillow fight and bubble bath. A group hug, you could say.
Grouplove is 2 years old and has only one full-length album to draw from, the ebullient and self-referentially titled “Never Trust a Happy Song.” They opened with its lead track, the manic “Itchin’ On a Photograph,” a giddy detonation of melody, rhythm, percussion and harmonies. When the opener feels like the finale, you know you’re in for a free-wheeling ride. So it went, song after song: “Naked Kids,” “Tongue Tied,” “Colours,” “Chloe” and the sweet, frenetic “Spun,” a high-speed, sing-song whirlwind of guitars, drums, mandolin and vocal embroidery. The band itself generates lots of energy. Hannah Hooper, vocalist and keyboardist, bounces and spins like a teenager who just kissed her first crush.
Grouplove followed a set by Of Monsters and Men that was nearly as jovial. The five-piece band from Iceland also indulges in a high-octane mix of folk, pop and rock arranged with guitars, keyboards, drums, accordion, brass. Anthems like the trumpet-fed “Little Talks” got the crowd involved — fists pumps and a hearty “hey!” in unison, at the right time. So did “Dirty Paws,” “Skeletons” (a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover) and “Mountain Time,” which ignited a tide of hand-clapping and singing-along. At times, resistance was futile, even to the cynical and seen-it-alls.
That set followed a dynamic performance by Joy Formidable, a Welch trio led by Ritzy Bryan, a guitar-wielding dervish of a lead singer of a band many of the nearly 3,000 in attendance wanted to see most. Looks can be deceiving. She may be small but her stage presence is mighty. During “Whirring” she hopped into the crowd and let the fans in front have their way with her guitar, which unleashed a storm of virulent noise. Joy Formidable traffics in a sound that is heavier, more soaring, spacey and textured, yet it is shimmery and melodic and elicits similar moods. Its set included “I Don’t Wanna See You Like This,” “Cradle” and a new one called “Cholla.” The joy they produced wasn’t necessarily formidable, but it was inherent and, at times, irresistible.