Joan as Police Woman Return Home to Brooklyn

May 7th, 2014

Joan as Police Woman – Rough Trade NYC – May 6, 2014
It was a homecoming show for Joan Wasser and her band—aka Joan as Police Woman—as they returned to Brooklyn after weeks on the road, playing to a full house at Rough Trade on Tuesday night. The crowd was an eclectic mix of people, spanning a wide range of ages and style, which was well suited for Wasser’s music. Dressed for an evening out in a shimmering gold top, she opened with “What Would You Do,” off her recently released album, The Classic. The band immediately pumped the room full of sound, Eric Lane playing both organ and Moog bass to counter Wasser’s electric piano. The heavy swinging soul hit the brakes with a practiced slow-down segue to a mournful outro, Wasser singing while Lane switched to saxophone for full dramatic effect.

As they continued to roll off songs from the new record, it was clear that Wasser and Co. were pros’ pros, making small changes in instrumentation or melody to impressive effect. The band would focus the musical spotlight on Wasser as she sang, always sporting a serious, soulful sneer on her face. Then the band would reclaim the focus, opening up things with mature grooves and controlled-burn rock-outs. Of course, Wasser was a part of this, too, playing electric piano, guitar and violin at different points throughout the set. “Witness” was a highlight, with Wasser singing, “I don’t want to be nostalgic for something that never was,” a grungy guitar from Matt Whyte matching Lane’s twist-of-lime organ riff. This blossomed into an extended two-guitar rocker, Lane’s key-bass and Dave De Rose’s drumming doing the dirty work underneath.

Midway through the set, Wasser invited her collaborator and member of opening band Cuddle Magic, Benjamin Lazar Davis, to fill out the band on bass. After they played a couple of songs from their side project, 2001, Davis stayed out to push Wasser’s best material over the top. The set was inevitably building to a powerful one-two punch of the final two numbers: “Shame,” off The Classic, and “The Magic,” from 2011’s The Deep Field. Here Wasser’s true strengths were revealed: two of the better songs you’ll hear anywhere, played at their full, growling, funked-up best. All that remained was an encore that included the band singing the new album’s title track in four-part a cappella doo-wop harmony, and Wasser playing one solo on her piano, as equally intriguing on her own as with that excellent band. Still, seeing as how good they made her sound all night, if I were Wasser, I’d keep them around. —A. Stein