As Joan Wasser steps out on stage and does a slight bow before taking seat at the piano, it is almost as though we are going to be treated to a piano recital and this initial thought is not misplaced in a description of how the evening begins as she plays To Be Lonely. The audience is unsurprisingly silent and respectful such that the air-conditioning hum and the sound of drawing breath can be heard in amongst the singing. There are another couple of songs (Wonderful and Warning Bell) before she rises from the piano and asks, “Hi. How’s it going everyone? Did you have nice dinner?” then performs Forever And A Year accompanying herself on guitar.
In her first real moment of conversational interaction with the audience she introduces the “entirety” of her band, the Roland Rhythm Arranger which provides percussion during Flash. This song includes a mid-section diversion into an Indian sitar-like drone and a significantly reverbed vocal that becomes percussive like a singing lesson exercise leading to a rhythmic drawn out ending.
Start Of My Heart is a truly beautiful ballad that is already recognised at this point in the set as a definite highlight, the jazz piano meandering punctuated by the sound of rain gradually bringing the outside world into our intimate environs. A cover of Blur’s Out Of Time is played into Christobel and this brings this first of two sets performed to a close.
After the break, Joan returns to describe this second set as a “continuation of non-stop love songs” and in her introduction to Real Life gives context regarding the mysterious Jonathan name checked in the song (like a Leonard Cohen lyric that has the listener eager to learn more). In this preamble she describes writing a song for someone she fell in love with in an attempt but unfortunately failing to win his affection. The lyrics, “I’ve never included a name in a song but I’m changing my ways for you Jonathan” are emotionally effecting given the back-story and perhaps there are conceptual, related sequels played in the set tonight.
After the stark, muted Tell Me, Joan adjusts the settings on her onstage amp and returns to front of stage, commenting indiscreetly, “There’s so many knobs and so little time” and continues, “I’m doing my stand up set after this” prior to a cover Kiss, which was transformed into a blues number, skeletal and stripped back to the influences that may have informed Prince’s song writing.
For the indistinct encore she returns to the piano for The Ride and ends with Your Song, and as this torch song is being played, the rain returns to patter down outside in-congruently like some additional sample being played in tandem with her live performance.
Being a late starter to becoming a front-person and centre of attention on stage, performing solo tonight Joan has successfully embraced her performing role. She’s human like the rest of us, just with a slightly larger than usual audience and that human-ness plays out in these songs that are informed by a past that need not be specified suffice to say it is on public record elsewhere. There is something original about her self-presentation and it is this that draws us into her world although there were a couple of moments tonight where we the audience were corralled although willingly to provide backing that a non-present band cannot.
With no band to introduce, earlier she had taken time to graciously thank all and sundry at the Gov, her tour crew and the chef as well as those having conducted recent media interviews. I can only hope she gives this piece of media similar consideration. Thank you, Joan as Police Woman.
Live Review by Jason Leigh