Live Music + Gig Reviews

Joan As Police Woman @ Zodiac, Oxford

4 December 2006

Joan As Police Woman

Joan As Police Woman

When you look as breathtakingly good on stage as Joan Wasser, you’re going to have to do something breathtakingly stupid to sabotage the fact you have the audience eating out of your hands, especially the male members.

Not one to do stupid things, (career moves include working with Rufus Wainwright and Antony Hegarty – hardly the behaviour of an idiot); she was on to a winner as soon as she stepped on stage.

Joan As Police Woman’s debut album, Real Life, is a fine album characterised by her innate song-writing talent and immaculate production that emphasised her rocky, punky and funky sensibilities, making the album a favourite in critical circles.

Yet she has flattered to deceive in a live setting. Tonight, she begins with a few unaccompanied songs at her keyboard, which exposes the fact that her writing is, in the main, not hugely accessible. One has to know these songs inside out before understanding what she does to them on stage. What is more, no one comes to see Joan for histrionics onstage – always self-possessed and carefully charming – her reflective bedsit-music is to be listened to patiently rather than engendering overwhelming emotion.

Having said that, at her most confessional with songs such as the title track of her album and The Ride, Joan is very moving indeed. And when she gets up, swings on a guitar and her band get into their stride; she is more engaging with swaggering numbers such as current single Christobel and the glorious Eternal Flame.

But it seems her days of introspection and personalism may be, if not behind her, augmented. This tour sees her experimenting with a number of new tracks, many of which see her taking her axe to – wait for it, you’ll be surprised – George Bush’s administration. Are You Not Furious? sees Joan very cranky indeed at her leader, and when, all graceful curves and Ophelia-like, she floats back to the stage for an encore, she devotes more new material to “the person I hate most in the world”. That is, one Condoleeza Rice.

Joan’s character and stage persona is such that one is never going to walk away from her saying her performance has changed your life, and it is a crying shame she seems incapable of re-creating the urgency and sonic textures she produces in the studio. Real Life is, without quite as much drama or vocal genius, the work of a 21st century Laura Nyro with its tales of love and loss and its angsty crescendos. Joan’s considerable talent will remain unfulfilled until her identity as a performer is perfected. She really is very hot though.

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