Considering what an accomplished and stylish musician Joan Wasser is, it’s eyebrow-raising how nervous she sometimes seemed during her showcase set tonight.
After performing as part of Rufus Wainwright‘s band and Antony And The Johnsons, Wasser’s quietly seductive debut solo album Real Life emerged in 2006.
Its successor To Survive is due in June. On account of its imminent arrival, Wasser devotees eagerly assembled for this sold-out show.
With Antony Hegarty himself amongst them in the audience, Joan took to the stage resplendent in a pale spring dress and a striking black head-dress, backed by drums and bass. Unlike her earlier tours, during which she sat behind a keyboard as though it were a desk, this time she elected to stand while tinkling her ivories. Despite giggling nervously between bouts of whispered rapartee, for the most part she managed to appear relaxed and confident, indulging in between songs chat throughout. Her easy demeanour percolated out to her audience.
A favourite theme of the evening was her fear of London – in particular its hurrying-scurrying commuters. “None of you have ever commuted,” she added, laughing. People ask what she puts in her tea, she informed us, after a tangential mini-ramble about shoes. “I’m just naturally psychedelic,” she said, entirely convincingly.
Retuning her guitar and battling recurrent sound issues caused, apparently, by a faulty cable, she found herself frequently with time on her hands for audience interaction. The new album’s songs were all written in different keys, she joked, to allow her time to chat while she retuned the guitar. During one such retuning she joined a whispered conversation taking place in the audience. Nobody minded.
Material from the new record, though here devoid of its orchestral arrangements, was at least as strong as anything from Real Life. Hard White Wall was a particular treat, an addictive arpeggiated keyboard loop hooking the latter half of the track as Wasser’s voice and building and collapsing drums and cymbals swirled around it. Better still was Furious, for which she announced the head-dress would have to go: “I can’t wear this for this song.”
Her more stately paced numbers can, on record, occasionally drift by like so much smoke in a jazz bar. Live, and stripped down to Wasser’s piano and vocals only, their stark quality rarely fails to mesmerise. The beautiful To Be Lonely’s deliberately measured pacing entranced the audience to a stillness and quietude perfect for hearing pins drop during the line: “This is the one I will try to be lonely with.”
Antony duetted on her debut; To Survive features an unheralded duet with Rufus called To America. Neither man joined her on stage tonight, but in truth Wasser had little need of star names to shelter behind. She’s grown into a star in her own right.
Christobel, Real Life’s most pacey and memorable number, ended the main set. She wasn’t gone long before howls of approval brought her back for perhaps her best known yet still understated track, Eternal Flame, and a solo epilogue on piano. Whatever she thought of London before her performance, perhaps the warm reaction of its non-commuters had calmed her fears by the show’s end.