The Black Box, Belfast
Tuesday 14th August 2018

Joan As Policewoman (AKA Joan Wasser) arrives in Belfast touring the best album of her career, her sixth, ‘Damn Devotion’. Not surprisingly, a lot of the material tonight comes from that record. Her music remains a mixture of soul, rock, and jazz. Tonight it’s very much her soul influenced material that is to the fore.

She bounds on stage accompanied by her three strong band and in quick succession, we get the first three tracks of the new album. The middle tune, ‘Warning Bell’ has become something of an earworm for me with its insistent mantra:

If there was a warning bell, I’d know but all I hear is music, soft and low. I never see it coming. I never see it coming on.

Joan’s voice over the years has mellowed to a soft languorous purr, which I could listen to all day, and this song has such a hook. It’s over too soon. ‘Tell Me’ continues the soul groove, at times reminiscent of Prince in his New Power Generation period. The Prince theme will appear again to startling effect again later in the gig.

Joan’s moniker is a homage to the 70s TV series ‘Police Woman’ starring Angie Dickinson as the eponymous female hero at a time when females taking the lead on television were rare. It makes a point about her stance on female politics, but as she says; “I wanted the name to be funny because although my music is serious, I like to laugh at tragedy”. She has had tragedy to contend with, particularly the drowning of her boyfriend and much-feted songwriter Jeff Buckley. That tinge of sadness is evident in her voice in ‘I Defy’.

Female politics is very much to the fore on ‘The Silence’ as she repeats in a strident proclamation:

My Body. My Choice. Her Body. Her Choice.

Joan’s voice changes dramatically from the low growl of ‘I Defy’ to the high falsetto territory of ‘The Magic’. A slight sideshow is watching her bass player’s face as he attempts, and succeeds, in harmonising on those notes.

But all eyes are transfixed on Joan as she moves between keyboard, guitar, and violin effortlessly.

Having called for an empty wine bottle, she ends her encore with an absolutely blinding low key cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’, at times backed only by drumstick on bottle, which really is worth the admission alone. This really needs to be heard.

Joan As Policewoman on record has presented a string of worthy and high-quality sets of music. Live they are enthralling and the material comes to life in a way that leaves the album versions behind. Joan As Policewoman live is never less than arresting.