Judging by the audience packing out the Scala for Joan As Police Woman’s London showcase of sophomore album To Survive, it looks like it’s going to be the sort of gig that Fi Glover would like. Well-dressed young couples stand politely in attendance through an underwhelming support slot from Joan As Police Woman’s bassist performing as Dead Air.
In both looks and sound she comes across as some intriguing hybrid of K D Lang and Peaches. Sadly she doesn’t live up to that promise, but her short set is easy enough to endure.
Given the sombre tones of To Survive, a reflective and downbeat album combining jazz and folk influences with classic songwriting and masterful delivery, the Joan Wasser that takes to the stage comes as something of a surprise. With a back-combed wig and clad in a shimmering, fish-scale gold and black top and glistening orange harem trousers she has the air of fantasy about her – a yet more intriguing hybrid of Scheherazade and a mermaid.
The set starts where the new album does with the grim fairytale piano dirge of Honor My Wishes, her voice joined with those of the drummer and bassist as three-part harmonies flirt with each other in deathly discord. The playful jazz of To Be Loved loses some of its depth as a three-piece, and what is a slick showcase for Wasser’s lissom voice on record becomes a passable indie ballad.
Refreshingly, Joan As Police Woman’s core audience don’t seem to have sought out copies of the new album before the release date a few days before the gig. So the unfamiliar new songs are warmly received and absorbed with inetrest, and the familiar The Ride receives a rapt welcome. But, hampered by her piano, her voice isn’t used to full effect. Wasser is a fantastic musician but here, tonight, it seems that the complexity of the instrumentation occasionally stymies her greatest asset, her voice. And her attempts to deliver on the vocal promise of the record end up compromised by her playing.
Her between-songs banter is utterly charming. Tossing out wry, knowing comments about wigs, and ribbing George La-a-a-a-a-a-amb, she is an absorbing entertainer, her larger than life appearance contrasting with the staid intimacy of her songs.
Combining numbers from both her records, she ultimately delivers a crowd-pleasing set. Particularly impressive from the new record are the monumental Hard White Wall and the bile-filled sneer of Furious, both of which bring the audience round. But as performed by a three-piece, the songs perhaps needed more reappraisal to live up to the recorded versions. If Wasser could step out from behind the keyboard or guitar, she could focus on the alluring siren’s call of her voice. And yet despite some shortcomings, Fi Glover would have enjoyed this as much as the rest of the audience.