Gig review: Joan As Police Woman at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Joan As Police Woman.
Joan As Police Woman.
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It’s appropriate that Parker Kindred is the last man to stop playing and leave the stage. The drummer has, after all, been the root of many of the songs performed during Joan As Police Woman’s two-hour set.

Joan Wasser has spoken about percussion being the starting point when composing sixth solo album Damned Devotion but the truth of that isn’t obvious until the material is heard live. Tight and relentless as an automaton, it’s the drums that ground jazzy torch song ‘Wonderful’, the 70s soul of ‘Silly Me’, and the lascivious, falsetto disco of ‘Steed (For Jean Genet)’.

It’s therefore somewhat ironic that the set encores with a heavily reworked cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’. Originally built around little more than the rhythm section, here Wasser turns it into languorous cocktail lounge music that downplays the role of the drums and gives Kindred a well-earned breather.

Mock seductively massaging the high frets on her guitar, the track nonetheless shows the humour within an artist who’s best known for songs of heartbreak and resilience. There are times that these lyrical themes can pitch her dangerously close to Starbucks music, as on the smoky resignation of ‘Warning Bell’.

Peel back the polished arrangements of her four-piece band, however, and the suppleness of her voice imbues the material with emotional integrity. On the sultry ‘Honor Wishes’ she has the bruised vulnerability of Beth Gibbons while on ‘Valid Jagger’ she broodingly seduces a lover to, “Run, don’t walk to me.”

If ‘Kiss’ challenges her image as heartbroken warrior then ‘The Silence’ threatens to shatter it entirely, swapping personal politics to address the Time’s Up Movement. Introduced as a song about being “loud and sharp and not shutting up forever”, its unusual aggression is amplified by sampled chants of ‘my body, my choice.’

Ominous and groove based, the track nonetheless fits into her back catalogue with its sense of hope and focus on the need for communication. As its refrain puts it, “It’s the silence that’s dulling the blade.”