Joan As Police Woman @ The Barbican, London 06.02.11

Joan As Police Woman are described by front-woman Joan Wasser as “punk rock R'n'B”, though from their recorded material, this is not apparent. The songs are pleasant enough, and Joan's authentic soulful tone both soothing and sassy, but the records generally lack in attitude and distinctiveness, each song tending to blur into the next in a manner that may lead one to better describe the band as “easy listening”. The live experience, however, put these recordings to shame, and demonstrated exactly why Joan As Police Woman deserve the hype that they're receiving.

Feb 6th, 2011 at The Barbican, London / By Frankie Reeves
Joan As Police Woman From the minimal three-piece band set-up and the overly-formal audience seating arrangement, it seemed possible that the songs would be performed with even less vigour than the records, perhaps even at a near-acoustic level. This was an incorrect assumption, the set performed with unexpected levels of enthusiasm and the formality creating a respectful silence that functioned perfectly in drawing complete attention to the band – as the set progressed, they really seemed to be the only three people in the room.

Aside from the glorious commercialism of new single ‘The Magic’ and the intensely emotive version of ‘Chemmie, the set really reached its peak in the second half. Near-perfect moments in live music are, unsurprisingly, few and far between, but older track ‘Anyone’ ranked among them, the consistently exceptional vocal harmonies reaching seemingly-impossible new levels of excellence alongside the uplifting chorus lyric “Now that I know you, I'm ready to show you how good I feel”. ‘Forever and a Year’ was another gem, revealing clear influences from her time with Jeff Buckley in everything from chord choices to the subtlest of her vocal inflections.

Joan's complete black leather outfit, which she joked that she would wear “Every night of this fifty-date tour” in the hope that it would become filthy enough to stand up on its own by the end, certainly represented the nature of her new material, especially ‘Nervous’ with it’s Skunk Anansie-esque melody, stabbed offbeat guitar and concluding over-driven solo [which also made one understand the “punk rock” reference].

Throughout the set, Joan gave her thanks to the technical crew at the venue, her personal touring crew and her label for “Giv[ing] me hope that there's a future for independent music”, as well as the audience for being attentive, loving and present! Her big-hearted nature, in addition to her down-to-earth, conversational on-stage banter, made her an entirely loveable character, and the emotional energy that blossomed as she performed exposed an intimate fragility behind her strong, feminine exterior that, by the end of the set, left us all in a rose-tinted state of admiration and empathy.

If you haven't witnessed 'Joan As Police Woman' live before and have been less than enthused by the records, take the risk and go see them anyway. You'll give the albums a second chance.