LIVE REVIEW: Joan As Police Woman @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (2019)



Joan As Police Woman
Factory Theatre
9 October

As a venue, the Factory Theatre often lacks warmth and atmosphere but on this night Joan As Police Woman transformed it into a dreamy basement cabaret bar. There was no support act due to her playing two sets – another tip of the hat to the jazz bar scenario. It also gave the fans a chance to check out the fully laden merch desk between sets.

On a dimly-lit stage wreathed in smoke sat an upright piano, an electric guitar, amplifier, and a Roland Rhythm Arranger drum machine. Joan Wasser, resplendent in a disco-era jumpsuit, took a long, deep breath before easing into a gorgeous rendition of ‘To Be Lonely’. The reverence of the attentive audience was quickly broken with Wasser good-naturedly asking for the air-conditioning to be turned off as she shivered, stretched her hands and even dropped to the floor for some press-ups. A few songs later she took up an audience member’s offer to lend her jacket.


It was clear that Wasser was in a playful and irreverent mood, exchanging banter with the audience before switching her attention back to her emotive jazz-tinged deep soul, R&B and folk inflected songs. Pretty much all the songs she played came from her recent anthology release Joanthology which cherry picks the highlights of the last decade of her solo career.

What quickly became evident from watching and listening to Wasser perform her songs, was the way she commands and steers the timing of, and space within her music. Sparse piano chords settled in unusual places, augmented by sweet melodic runs of notes. All the while her voice drifted and soared above the music, pushing and pulling via simple incantations one minute and delicate and intricate acrobatic flurries the next. Her more rhythmically dependent songs were given groove and depth via the drum machine and on her cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ she took the song further into coy and sensual territory. Other highlights included ‘Human Condition’, ‘Tell Me’, audience favourite ‘The Magic’ and the gentle ache of ‘The Ride’.

Joan As Police Woman has visited Australia a number of times now but this felt like the most relaxed, intimate and consummate show we’ve seen from her.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Joan As Police Woman – Damned Devotion


Joan Wasser is now six albums deep into her solo career and she continues to refine and explore her polymorphous sound that takes in soul, jazz and pop music.

If her last album, The Classic, felt like a slight misstep, Damned Devotion is a return to what Wasser does best – blending mood and atmosphere with classic soul, contemporary R&B and modern technology. There’s an exhilarating sense of both space and intimacy in Wasser’s songs, impressively enhanced by the production of Thomas Bartlett and Parker Kindred. Swelling synths, fractured electronic beats are the backdrop to Valid Jagger, Rely On sounds like a take on the industrial urban soul of Portishead, while Talk About It Later is futuristic Curtis Mayfield with both dark rock and gospel undertones.

“I start to wonder what about my life I can’t settle on” she sings on closer I Don’t Mind. It sums up the questioning nature of many of her lyrics as Wasser explores both the self and the emotional obstacle course of modern life. The highlight comes with the single Tell Me – a heavy yet sweet, neo-soul groove with a perfectly weighted and irresistible hook of a chorus. Damned Devotion is grounded in traditional musical forms yet it blossoms with sonic experimentation and emotional depth.


INTERVIEW: Joan As Police Woman

written by Chris Familton

Joan Wasser has one of those careers so far that many musicians dream of. From her early days as a violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and then The Dambuilders she had a solid grounding in the indie and classical worlds. The seeds of her solo career were planted when her boyfriend Jeff Buckley tragically died and she formed the short-lived group Black Beetle with the other members of his band. The strength she gained from that experience emboldened her to start a solo career as Joan As Police Woman that saw her stretching out into soul, funk and jazz territory with an expanded instrumental arsenal that included keyboards and guitar. She also found herself in demand as a live and session musician with the likes of Antony & The Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and most recently arranging the strings on the new Scissor Sisters album.

Her new album The Deep Field sees Wasser widen her sound and also take a more positive thematic approach with her songwriting. “I really wanted to make a record that was a bit more ass shakin’ and reflected the music I always come back to myself which is a lot of 70s soul stuff like Steve, Marvin, Sly & The Family Stone, Al Green. Just because I love that music so much. Obviously I’m not those guys but its just music that comes from a similar place. I also wanted to write from a more of a universal point of view rather than just go personal. I mean everything I write is personal but I wanted to make this a little more up, a little more sexy which reflects the place I’m in myself – which is a little more comfortable and fun,” she explains.

Wasser introduces some different elements on The Deep Field. The guitar solo at the end of Nervous and is rough and gritty while the gospel crescendo in I Was Everyone lifts the song to a more spiritually ethereal place than she has visited in the past. “I called in a lot of my favourite musicians – I always do – but this time I got in a bunch of women to sing backup which I’ve never done. I usually just do them all myself but this time I said “screw it” I’m going to get in my favourite voices to sing so that was just so fun and really did expand it a lot,” says Wasser.

Some bands stick to the recorded template of their song when they tour while others prefer to let them grow and develop in the live realm. Wasser takes the latter approach and so on her visit to Australia we’ll be treated with a multi-talented trio bringing their own perspective to the new and older songs. “The songs keep evolving. I’m touring with a three piece, me being one of those three pieces. We did a lot of work to arrange the songs so they make sense as a three piece. Since then they’ve really evolved a lot and its just been fantastic playing with the band. They keep changing which makes touring really fun. I’m touring with Parker Kindred on drums, he’s played on every track on the record and he is also a really beautiful singer. I’m also touring with a gentleman called Tyler Wood who plays Moog bass with his left hand, keys with his right hand and sings – so its pretty full for a three piece. I play mainly guitar and keys and sing obviously.”

Looking back at the Black Beetle project it is curious that the group never released an album to document their time together but Wasser explains that in the wake of Buckley’s death the process was more important than the resulting songs. “It was really important for us to be together at that time because we were really trying to figure out how to stay alive in a certain way, how to survive that time and music was the way we understood how to feel good, music helped us all feel connected so we made a band at the time. We were all learning how to write songs at that point so it was a nurturing experience and experiment. We did record an album then the band broke up. People don’t want an album that doesn’t get toured so we decided that it would be better to move on in our own separate ways.”

Though her solo career takes up nearly all of her time Wasser does still try to collaborate on external projects whenever possible. “Because it is so fun to do other stuff I do fit in as much other stuff as I possibly can. Last year the Vancouver Olympics picked up the Neil Young show we’d done. I was the musical director for that. It was great originally when we did it in Prospect Park. It was such a pleasure to do it again because we had proper time and other people participated like Lou Reed and Elvis Costello – that was just fantastic. I also went to Ethiopia with Africa Express, the Damon Albarn thing and that was life changing, that was one of the most incredible things,. I’m fine without ever sleeping so I’ll see how long I can keep that up.” she laughs in her distinctive Boston via New York accent.

this interview first appeared on FasterLouder




LIVE REVIEW: Joan as Police Woman @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (09/06/11)

written by Chris Familton

With each new album Joan Wasser releases she seems to be loosening the reins and allowing more of herself to emerge in her music. Live she is clearly doing the same with this show on her The Deep Field Tour surpassing her last visit to Australia a few years ago. The promoters were clearly over-ambitious with the original venue – Enmore Theatre – as not even the Factory Theatre was full. This mattered little as the crowd was large enough to make the room feel intimate and warm as Joan and band hypnotised the audience with a soul funk trip through the new record and beyond.

Wasser was resplendent in a black leather jumpsuit which made her look like a combination of Joan Jett and a character from The Mighty Boosh. Her band of Parker Kindred and Tyler Wood were rather more modestly dressed but it was really the sound that the trio created that dazzled the theatre. The set leant heavily on the latest album and improved its standing immensely. The recorded versions lack some spark and vitality at times but live they blossomed. With just keyboards, drums and vocals the band could equally retreat into hushed intimacy or muster a cyclonic musical storm. Wasser switched between keyboards and guitar showing her versatility yet never allowing the instruments to overshadow her magical voice. She got quietly sassy on the brilliant Chemmie one minute and then brazenly funky on the album single Magic. It was probably the quieter moments that captured the audience’s attention the most with Forever and a Year a particularly spine tingling moment.

Between songs Wasser displayed her New York wit and sense of humour with observations on the weather, bats and her desire to dress the Kindred and Wood in matching jumpsuits. Indeed for such serious music there was a nice balance of levity and humour throughout the evening. Joan Wasser has surrounded herself with exemplary musicians who complement her music perfectly and she has grown into an artist capable of spellbinding music. This was one of the live music highlights of the year to date.