Joan As Police Woman – The Old Market, Hove – 23rd April 2018

Photo by Jamie MacMillan

Sometimes when an artist says that this is their favourite gig, you know that they have probably said it five times on the tour already. However, when Joan Wasser quietly exclaims that this is her favourite ever, it rings true. Backed by virtuoso performances from her band, tonight’s show in support of Damned Devotion is a sensation. That album (her seventh) saw Joan let her hair down in the recording process, seeing a much more experimental approach to the writing that bled through to the finished article. Now on the road, audiences are flocking to see it brought to life.

Support comes from former Guillemots frontman Fyfe Dangerfield, who shows that he has lost none of his power to emotionally connect and affect with a series of perfectly pitched songs. He almost verges into performance art with a series of lo-fi costume changes, taking in technicolored dream coats, gorilla slippers and even just a Marvel dressing gown. Sliding from piano to guitar, both are played exquisitely with personal favourites coming from ‘Southern Winds’ and a jaw-dropping rendition of ‘If The World Ends’ from Guillemots’ debut album. It is rare to see a support artist listened to so generously, as the audience quickly realised what a treat they were having.

That wholehearted attention (so rare at shows these days sometimes) extended unsurprisingly to the main event. Starting with sensually slow versions of ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Warning Bell’, the band show the surest of touches. Wasser’s voice is superb – soulful and strong, just as honeyed as on record. As she moves from piano to guitar on ‘Tell Me’, she is encircled by her band who are all playing their part to the max. At times, there is a jazz-like quality to the music with the sounds of the various instruments swirling and interchanging, taking their place at the sonic foreground. Yet, always at the hub is Wasser, beaming with delight as she speaks to her band or audience in between songs. Damned Devotion is played in its entirety throughout the show, interspersed with highlights from her vast back catalogue. ‘Eternal Flame’ is surprisingly funky, while ‘Honor Wishes’ has a 2am feel to it, all gorgeous harmonies and ‘sleepy-time lighting.

At times seemingly overwhelmed at the response from an awestruck crowd, Wasser verges on tears at several points tonight. For every ‘Steed (For Jean Genet)’, a track that erupts into glitchy electronica, there is a delicate ‘Valid Jagger’ where the audience listens so intently that the silence itself was tangible. Playing their part to the full, her band are exceptional. With Parker Kindred (drums) and Jacob Silver (bass) adding a gentle rhythm on one side of the stage, balanced with the subtler tones from Eric Lane (piano) and Jared Samuel (keyboard/guitar) on the other, it creates a sound of rare warmth and ingenuity that wraps itself around the entire venue. The experimental spirit that Damned Devotion was founded on becomes something more organic live, still recognisably the songs from the album but now full of life, evolving and elevating itself into something higher and even more effective.

A night that was surprisingly emotional at times reaches a glorious, spiralling crescendo with ‘The Silence’, the entire band grooving to it in a stunning climax. A brief encore follows with even more gratitude given both ways from stage to crowd and back again, before a seriously sexy cover version of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ leaves everyone a little hot under the collar. And so ends a triumphant evening for Joan As Police Woman, a show that was no mere live rendition of an album but one that took it as a blueprint before spinning gloriously off into all new directions and dimensions. Joan Wasser’s declaration of it being her favourite ever show will absolutely have been shared by many, a stunning performance by a ridiculously talented ensemble.

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