It’s the first night of Joan As Policewoman’s Irish tour. In the gentile surroundings of Dublin’s historic Liberty Hall various cups of tea are scattered about between a baby grand, a Fender Twin amp and a mysterious, vintage style preamp on the stage of the Public Sector Union’s headquarters. Joan Wasser has been performing as Joan As Policewoman since 2004 and released seven albums. Tonight we are promised an anthology of her solo work in a resolutely solo presentation.
She takes the stage in shoulder pads and glitter to open with ‘To Be Lonely’ and ‘Wonderful’ at the piano. In this environment, her every breath rings around the theatre. After ‘Warning Bell’, there is an awkward silence as Wasser checks the tuning on her telecaster and stretches her fingers into guitar picking shape. She sips her tea and plaintively croons an ululating sigh.
She dedicates a song to Elliott Smith which seems to satisfy the hipsters in the audience. You can actually feel their smugness bloom in the darkness. Beside me a cross legged, barefoot man in shorts complains about the quality of the craft cider. Between songs, the forced laughter of the arthouse greets every mumbled utterance from the stage.
I’m starting to miss the band and feel a little restless in my chair when Wasser introduces the mysterious box. It’s a Roland Rhythm Ranger (1973). Between the Roland and her loop pedal the sound fills out and the gig picks up some momentum. The fuller arrangement feels more satisfying but the whole show has started to feel like a joke that I’m not in on. The identikit singer-songwriter arrangements are generic and, though the control she exerts over her voice is admirable, there is nothing to grab on to. It ends up like listening to the audiobook adaptation of a teenage emo kids diary.
Eventually every precious, self-conscious note begins to grate and I know I’ll have to leave before I start to hate her recorded works too. She plays a cover of Damon Albarn’s ‘Out Of Time’ and Prince’s ‘Kiss’ but they are indistinguishable from the general melange. We leave, unimpressed, but we appear to be in a minority as the reaction between songs suggests that there are a lot of satisfied customers here tonight.