Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Joan As Police Woman – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds 19/04/14

23 April 2014, 13:00 | Written by Simon Godley

Joan Wasser, who was born in July 1970, tells this evening’s sell-out crowd that returning here she is always reminded of Live At Leeds, theseminal live album by The Who recorded just up the road from the Belgrave Music Hall in the refectory of the city’s university a mere five months before her birth. She cites it as the record that changed her life. And change is a concept with which Joan Wasser is most familiar.

Characterised by violin lessons and classical training, Wasser broke free from this more conventional early musical life to join Boston’s minor-league alt-rockers The Dambuilders. Their demise in 1997 foretold her recruitment to the ranks of Antony and the Johnsons, and by 2002, her chrysalis into Joan As Police Woman and full emergence as an artist in her own right was complete

Four albums down that line (five, if the perhaps well-intentioned but rather ill-advised Cover live show exclusive is counted) and Wasser is now here in the UK and Europe to promote the last of those offerings, the recently released The Classic. Fêted and frowned upon in pretty much equal measure, it witnesses Joan As Police Woman’s relocation in time and place from modern indie torch queen to faux-1960’s vintage soul sister.

Joan As Police Woman, the band as opposed to the individual, sees Wasser joined by the combined and considerable talents of Eric Lane on keys, Moog and occasional saxophone, Matt Whyte’s lead guitar and the drums of Parker Kindred. The three men also show their vocal dexterity when they commune with Wasser at the front of the stage for the penultimate encore, a playful, a capella doo-wop romp through The Classic’s title track.

This evening, and over the course of sixteen songs and ninety perfectly balanced minutes, Joan As Police Woman perform The Classic in its entirety, including a final encore of the album’s bonus track, “Your Song”, which perhaps intentionally - or maybe even ironically given the recent shifts in Wasser’s more general musical direction - sees her all alone behind the keys delivering an incredible searing, soaring vocal performance; the type of which had first brought her to our attention on her magnificent début album Real Life.

Scattered among The Classic’s eleven songs are three from Real Life and one each from its successor To Survive and 2011’s generally lukewarm Deep Field. “The Ride” remains as wonderfully astonishing as when first heard eight years ago - a beautifully poignant lesson in unashamed reminiscence – and “Christabel” has undergone a quite radical metamorphosis, slowed dramatically down and revealed here as a near-funereal lament.

Yet it’s the material from The Classic which is the greater revelation tonight. Stripped of much of their studio production gloss and occasionally fussy and over-elaborate instrumentation, it is just the basic fabric of these songs that’s left. Recent single “Holy City” is a true Tamla toe-tapper; “Good Together”, with that “don’t wanna be nostalgic” refrain adding to its retro-soulful feel before exploding in a grand finale of Wasser and Whyte’s cataclysmic guitars; and “Shame” becoming a contagious dancefloor filler, confirming that regardless of whatever changes in her musical style Joan Wasser may adopt, she really is a songwriter and musician of the most remarkable depth and versatility.


What Would You Do?
Holy City
Good Together
Get Direct
The Ride
Hard White Wall
New Year’s Day
I Defy
Ask Me
The Classic
Your Song

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next