Review: Joan as Police Woman impress Aberdeen's Lemon Tree with journey from alt-R&B to afrobeat and beyond
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JOAN as Police Woman frontwoman Joan Wasser might not know what stovies are, but a Lemon Tree crowd learned to love her anyway.
At a show last Friday (June 24), in support of latest album The Solution is Restless, the US band showed their development from an alt-R&B outfit with great tunes into a developed project drawing from afrobeat and trip hop.
In an exchange after third song Masquerader, Wasser was complimenting Scotland's fish and chips when a woman in the crowd shouted: "What about stovies?"
Wasser said: "Is that a place or is that a disease?
"It's a food? A stovie?
"We're going to have to talk after the show."
Wasser's dry humour and cool demeanour helped guide listeners through a trip through her 20-year discography.
November 2021's The Solution is Restless was a collaboration album with the late drummer Tony Allen and singer-songwriter Dave Okumu.
The album was on of the last projects Allen recorded before his death in April 2020, at the age of 79.
Material from the album, some of which echoes Allen's role as Fela Kuti's top general during afro-beat's emergence, featured heavily in the show's running order.
Wasser said: "We got to make our last album with the legendary drummer Tony Allen.
"If you ever want to dance and never stop dancing, put on a Fela Kuti record.
"And that's Tony who led that band."
Walking out to Kate Bush track Hello Earth, the band looked relaxed and at ease before breaking into the tense and propulsive Get My Bearings.
The track, dominated by heavy drums and a steady, brassy vocal performance, shone brighter in a raw live setting than in the album's muted and spacey feel.
Drummer Parker Kindred was the song's engine, locking in with huge left-hand piano bass parts from Wasser.
Bassist Kyle Miles filled out the sound with stylish minimalist lines, while keyboard player Eric Lanes added texture and flair with out-there effects.
The live treatment moves the track from a trip hop ballad towards being a rock solid, nervy funk piece.
Second and third songs Take Me to Your Leader and Masquerader develop the same formula, taking tracks from the latest album and sharpening their edges.
Aberdeen bought into it completely.
The crowd, split down the middle between family groups and young trendies gave the Joan team a warm welcome.
After massive applause following Take Me to Your Leader, Wasser said: "You're going to make my show.
"Already, I know it."
A cover of David Bowie's Sweet Thing was the night's first hint at the other side of Wasser and Co's career – tight minimalist treatments of great songs.
Known at one time as a virtuoso violinist, Wasser's trumpet-like voice sounds huge on the song, with her voice dripping with gold on the line: "Boys, boys it's a sweet thing..."
The Bowie cover reflects work from Joan As Police Woman's earlier period, including 2005 debut album Real Life and transitionary albums 2011's The Deep Field and 2018's Damned Devotion.
Tell Me, from The Deep Field, hits a sublime sweet spot between alt-R&B and country.
The tune, boasting a sticky hook which plays with time in a subtle, groovy way, will sound fresh for the next 20 years.
While explaining the origin of the song, Wasser clearly feels separate from the person who wrote it.
She said: "This is a song I wrote when I was feeling so frustrated at – okay – it was a boyfriend...
"God, please don't feel bad for me though!"
Deciding to move into more challenging music after finding such a satisfying formula nearly 20 years ago could seem a strange decision.
However, the careful steps Joan as Police Woman have taken away from their genesis serve to keep the job interesting for them.
The novelty keeps them all, and particularly Wasser, happy enough to keep selling the old song.
Because, after all, with songs this good you don't need to write copies.
The crowning glory of the night was a last dive into the waters of the latest album, with 12-minute epic The Barbarian.
The dubby track is the closest the evening came to the trip hop tones of the latest album, but is also the track most suited to that sound.
Punctuated with group chants that throw back to classic Fela Kuti tracks like Zombie and with driving clavinet playing, the track is a riot.
The genuine sense of fun maintained for the tune's whopping length, even when the rhythms were allowed to repeat for extended periods and Wasser was dancing in a seeming-trance.
Before classic tune The Magic and the encore of classic Timmy Thomas soul track Why Can't We Live Together, Wasser said: "I would like to thank everybody that makes this place possible.
"Thanks for helping this happen tonight.
"I would like to thank all you...Aberdeenians?
"Oh, it's Aberdonians – that's great.
"Thanks for leaving your Aberdonian houses."
Despite the affront to stovies, the evening was one worth the journey from any house in the north east.