Joan As Police Woman, The Tuning Fork – Friday October 25th 2019 (Concert Review)

Joan as Police Woman is Joan Wasser and Joan Wasser is Joan as Police Woman. She is the Goddess manifest. I flew to Sydney to see JAPW as a trio in October 2008 at the Metro Theatre. They were superb. However, just Wasser: a grand piano, an electric guitar, a sparsely deployed vintage drum machine from ‘73, ‘that’ voice and 16 immaculately written and delivered songs blew the full-band incarnation out of the water!

A beautifully curated set-list comprised of a diplomatic cross-section of material, arranged so that her accompaniment with just the essentials: harmonically extended and thoughtful playing, sparse treatments – all-round good taste and tastiness. She reinterpreted her own songs for solo rendition: stretching out notes, phrases, bars, silences as required. Her piano and guitar playing were simultaneously virtuoso, thoughtful AND heartfelt – often complete reharmonisations and arrangements from the studio recordings.

There was one cover: Prince’s Kiss, wherein she had the audience sing an outro/mantra of “Get love … leave time”. Emphasizing and repeating the lyric “Women not girls, rule my world.”) Wasser is the master of the tasty cover, with an album Cover doing just that: wild reworkings of songs to bring out their meaning and extracting their most fragrant essential oils… Juicing them for what is most nutritious.

From a vocal coaching perspective: her nasalised inhales, facial expressiveness and anchoring, ease of dynamic range that naturally rides the natural shape of the language, resonance balance and placement could be used as role-modeling for any aspiring singers. As for the songs, I reference them when I teach to demonstrate the power and function of bridges, seeing them as a how-to manual on how to document and channel revelation.

The Tuning Fork hosted this solo show in promotion of Joanathology, a 3 CD set of songs spanning her 8 album, 15 year career as JAPW including a disc of material recorded Live at the BBC for Mark Riley’s BBC6 Sessions. I didn’t think it necessary for me to own this collection as I already felt I had it all …. But I was wrong. Her inclusion of the previously unreleased track What a World was a highlight of the evening (and it’s great to have a record of these powerful stripped-back solo interpretations).

Those who know Joan Wasser, adore Joan Wasser. They may know her as the violinist from Rufus Wainwright or Anthony and the Johnsons. They may own any or all of her albums: Real Life, To Survive, The Deep Field, The Classic, Let it be Me (a collaboration with Benjamin Lazer Davis) and her latest Damned Devotion. She’s probably helped them navigate life’s more treacherous waters, provide comfort for trauma, given hope and been a synaesthetically sensuous champion for life, hope, love.

Her songs become strings anchoring our transforming-liquid-cocoon-lives to the branch of lived experience/peer support. Singing songs about The Magic because she IS magic. Singing songs about Real Life because she IS real life. She understands the human condition, how to survive, how to love and be loved, she knows loss, ecstasy, grief, flush-chested gratitude, the passion of desire that throws someone up against a Hard White Wall… the Deep Field and full multi-coloured spectrum of emotion and experience that only great songwriters can do.

Imagine if Joni Mitchell and Prince had a love-child…

Those who know me, know: I am a HUGE Joan Wasser fan! (that may very well be a gross understatement). I cover four of her songs and she sang ALL FOUR of them this evening. I am in love with the woman and her music. Truth be told, I was even more nervous in a taxi on the way to the gig than I get for my own performances. After all, not everyone gets to see their heroes… better still, meet them and chat after the show about how expressing yourself through creativity, especially song-writing, can save your life! She is exactly the same open, generous, sassy, insightful, wise, crazy and sexy AF, person off-stage and on.

It’s not surprising that Jeff Buckley wrote Everybody Here Wants You about her. It’s true, we do. She is the torch bearer. The Eternal Flame inside her burns incandescent and we all want to be close to that warmth and illumination.

So comfortable is she within her skin, that every member of the audience feels that same easefulness. She loves that intimacy and we feel it too.

She’s a virtuoso: Firstly, of violin, then piano, guitar, bass, drums and latterly, her voice as singer and songwriter. As for ‘that voice’: it is exquisitely sensitive, mesmerizing, controlled, magnetizing, delicate, nuanced and dynamic.

She thanked us for listening so intently. In honesty, I think we were all so spellbound and captivated that we couldn’t breathe! You could hear a pin drop in that traditionally rowdy space. The last time I heard that kind of attentive silence was for Marc Ribot …. and that’s because he’d demanded it: specifying in his tech rider that the fridge be turned off and no photographers make any shutter noise!

She wore what she described on social media as an ”amazing custom-made deep emerald green velvet suit designed by the brilliant musician and designer @annacordellclothing from Melbourne. Extreme thanks Anna for making me look and feel like a trillion green-backs” with platform boots and a ‘feathered’ ‘70s David Cassidy hairdo. Asking, “Do I look enough like Tony Danza for you?” Statuesque and stunning… That’s our Joni.

Though she’s an insanely talented multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, songwriter and singer, she’s entirely down to earth: admitting before playing Anyone that she wasn’t entirely secure on the chords. She stopped after a mistake, said “F*ck”, then repeated the phrase to self-correct…. Joking that any smartphone/YouTube videos could edit that bit out later.

Her written list of thank you’s made shout-outs to Kurt Shanks & Lani for finally facilitating her first ever tour of Aotearoa, Kevin on lights, Matthew Colin from Castlemaine on sound and dedicated Tell Me to Jesse Mulligan from RNZ for plugging her shows on the radio.

Being resident in Aotearoa, I find it hard to fathom that someone of Wasser’s stature would want to live in New Zealand… but the desire to reside here seems genuine. She posted on her Facebook page yesterday “All New Zealand shows sold out. THANK YOU!!! Accepting marriage proposals to stay in country.”

And, after tonight’s final show “New Zealand. You know how I feel about you. Now when can I come back? ❤️??#joanthologytour2019

Darling Joan, the feeling’s mutual.

~Caitlin Smith

Click any image to see a gallery from Rachel Webb


  1. To be lonely from To Survive
  2. Wonderful from Damned Devotion
  3. Warning Bell from Damned Devotion
  4. Forever and a Year from The Deep Field
  5. Flash from The Deep Field
  6. The Start of My Heart from To Survive
  7. Anyone from Real Life
  8. Christobel from Real Life
  9. Real Life from Real Life
  10. What a world from Joanathology
  11. Human Condition from The Deep Field
  12. Tell Me from Damned Devotion
  13. Kiss from Joanathology
  14. The Magic from The Deep Field
  15. The Ride from Real Life
  16. Your Song from The Classic