Joan Wasser’s perfectly coiffured hairdo sets her photogenic features – razor-sharp cheek bones, sultry eyes, playful mouth – off to a tee. More of a sculpture than a style, it sits perfectly still atop its owner’s head as she drawls her introduction at the intimate Spitz club.
But it’s her blue dress, with the back cut away, that she draws attention to. Naming the designer and doing a twirl, she’s obviously pleased with it. And well she might – she looks stunning as a red light gives her a devilish halo as she sparkles.
It’s her third visit to the candlelit Spitalfields venue in three months, and the place is sold out. She’s back in London in September – but playing the Hammersmith Apollo in support of Beth Orton. If tonight’s performance of playful torch songs is anything to go by, this former member of Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright‘s band will likely blow the Norfolk lass off that cavernous west London stage.
She begins at the beginning. To Be Lonely, from her debut EP under the Police Woman moniker, opens the set as a showcase of the whispery side of her vocal talent. Mouthing lyrical sweet nothings into the microphone, she sits at her electric piano, owning the place.
There follows a discussion about her drummer’s gardening accident that caused him to miss the Bristol gig of this tour. She comments that fans have been wishing him well on her MySpace page – and he is indeed better now. But Joan still wants to do drum substitute foot stamps. The drummer in question, taking to the stage, says she can – as long as he can carry on gardening. It seems a fair deal to both.
Along with her gardener-drummer, Joan is accompanied by an androgynous bassist who, despite stylish attire, wisely stays out of the limelight and allows Joan to dominate proceedings. Real Life, from the debut album of the same name, goes down a treat but, like much of her material, it’s a song the audience listens to rather than participates in. Joan As Police Woman is determinedly an act that does not do singalongs.
In this live setting the intricacy of Joan’s songwriting is writ clear as she eyeballs her audience members one by one – unsettling some, delighting others. Eternal Flame – not the Bangles song of the same name – is also recognised, and the laid-back The Ride seems slower live than on the album.
Best of the bunch are I Defy and Save Me – two rhythmic songs that sound like siblings, hooked by electric piano riffs. Both lack the album’s orchestral flourishes, and the former lacks Antony’s duetting vocals, but the stripped down versions work well in the confines of the venue.
She returns for a two song encore and leaves to affectionate applause. The intimate feel of the set aided Joan Wasser tonight – whether her music transfers well to larger venues remains to be seen, but perhaps that’s where the orchestral arrangements can return.