Joan Wasser joined her band onstage at Manchester’s Stoller Hall to warm applause, drew the lights down ever lower until the interior shrank to the most intimate of venues and performed her recent album, Damned Devotion, interspersed with some back catalogue classics such as Human Condition, Eternal Flame and The Magic. All clad in burgundy satin baseball jackets, Joan and the band exuded the kind of unity, confidence and versatility that saw them not just play the tracks but let them breathe, opening them up and exploring every soulful melody, every innovative drum pattern and fluid baseline.
Gaining intensity with every syllable, despite being behind a keyboard or behind a guitar, Joan’s charisma transports her to the foreground. Her body tensed, her head often thrown back and her arms shooting out to punctuate the higher notes, she is magnetic. After an encore of Prince’s Kiss boasting a sensuality eclipsing that of the original, it is as though the fixed rows of well-made Stoller Hall seats have all moved a few metres closer to the artist who shouts out to remind us upon leaving the stage: I am Joan As Policewoman!
The Stoller Hall. Wooden floor, wooden seats. We are entombed in this pine coloured sarcophagus of sound. The invisible grain, the smooth finish. The angular horseshoe balcony up above acknowledged with surprise from the stage. The vertical wooden slats surrounding the performance space. The lights turn pastel pink to violet and the band are on stage, strutting across this boardwalk, their baseball jackets shining. West Side Story. Warriors. Coney Island. Coney Island Baby. They ‘want to play football for the coach’. They ‘wanna give the whole thing up for you’.
The low shuffle is lifted with the fairground grandeur of the Mellotron. There is sunburn on our shoulders. The tide is running in. It’s getting late. Was that the flash of a blade glinting in the shadows? The Cyclone rattles overhead. The rushing waves lap our feet. The water has cleansing properties that go beyond the skin in Wonderful and continue through Warning Bell. The tide is rising, we look around and shore is just a memory. We are in deep. We are in over our heads. Ripples, tides, currents of bass a thousand tears deep, salty, sharp yet sweet. In every lyrical line, a hook that tears words from written stasis and leaps above the arcing waves. There are whirlpools deep, wide and damned devotion, pulling both ways at once, we try to keep our heads above the surface, to breathe, to breathe, to breathe. ‘If there was a warning bell I’d know, but all I hear is music soft and low.’ Out here, in the ‘endless open’, our ‘watermarked bodies’ are adrift in this ‘stung ocean’.
Lying back, against the hard sand beneath the moonlight as the tide ebbs away, we are caught in that to and fro movement, infecting us, under the skin, into our souls, the turning tides of relationships, back and forth, back and forth, joy and pain, moved by moons hidden by clouds orbiting our hearts. Circling, in our conversations, in our desires… Joan As Policewoman has caught you. Joan As Policewoman wants you to confess to your crimes. ‘Tell me, tell me, tell me, what do you want. Tell me, tell me, tell me, what do you need?’
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