Joan as Police Woman

Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Once again New Briggate was a bustling metropolis of human energy as offices closed up for the weekend, breathing a sigh of relief no doubt before the Leeds evening adventures began. A lengthy queue formed outside the Grand Theatre for a performance of Cats, where ALW meets TSE in a miasma of feline fun. Meanwhile, those eagerly awaiting the arrival of Joan Wasser, otherwise known as Joan as Policewoman, infiltrated local bars and coffee houses until the crowds died down. Leeds was still basking in the warm afterglow of a second consecutive day of high temperatures and unseasonal sunshine, surprising the city after the long and gloomy winter. The Maine-born musician, singer, songwriter and producer whose alias was inspired by Angie Dickinson’s role in the TV series of the same name, appeared relaxed as she joined her band on stage tonight at the Howard Assembly Room, the band consisting of Parker Kindred on drums, Jared Samuel on guitar and keys, Eric Lane on keys and Jacob Silver on bass. If their collective musical credentials were of an undisputed top drawer nature, then their voices were equally crucial to Joan’s outstanding performance tonight, with a smattering of convincing falsettos dropping in here and there. Wearing a peach coloured silk tour jacket with her moniker and current album title emblazoned on the back, ala Rydell High’s Pink Ladies, together with red knee-length boots, the boys in the band were likewise attired (jackets, not the boots). As Joan approached her keyboard centre stage, she did so with confidence as the band launched into Wonderful, effectively setting the bar stylishly high from the start. Looking nowhere near her age, Joan performed every song from her latest release Damned Devotion, accompanying herself on either guitar or keyboard, with little pomp or ceremony between the songs, rarely stopping for chit-chat. When Joan did speak, notably during the introduction of “What Was it Like?” a song dedicated to the memory of her late adopted father, she did so with warmth and affection. Loss has played an unwanted yet major part in Joan’s life from the start, having been put up for adoption at an early age, then having re-discovered her birth parents, subsequently losing both of her fathers, together with the more public tragedy of losing her boyfriend Jeff Buckley in 1997. These tragedies are present in Joan’s demeanour as well as in her work, though her pursuit of happiness is also a major priority for this artist. With tonight’s set mainly concentrating on the new songs, one or two older selections came out to play, including “Eternal Flame”, “Honor Wishes” and “Human Condition”, each one reminding us of the powerful body of work Joan is responsible for. Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of tonight’s performance came during the two song encore, when Joan performed a bluesy rendition of “Kiss”, avoiding Prince’s flamboyance and notably the word ‘kiss’. Seeing the band venturing temporarily into a Doors type vibe, was really quite thrilling. If this was the ‘extraordinary’ point of the evening, then the ‘bizarre’ point was right at the beginning, courtesy of singer songwriter Fyfe Dangerfield, whose songs were as complex and inventive as his costume changes were excessive and pretentious; more changes possibly than the entire cast of Cats downstairs, which included two hooded dressing gowns, a malfunctioning silk scarf and a pair of life-size hairy ‘gorilla head’ slippers. The meaning of this will no doubt occur to me on a long bus journey sometime in the future, but at the moment, I’m at a loss. Good night nevertheless.