25th April | St. George’s
It’s fitting that two artists who have undergone dramatic reinventions took to the stage at St George’s last week. Much like the fresco of Jesus gazing happily down on the stage from the wall of the converted church, both Joan As Police Woman and her opener, Fyfe Dangerfield, have endured periods of transition. Before accepting her badge and gun, Joan Wasser was a touring violinist for names like Lou Reed and Elton John. But in her Policewoman guise, just shy of fifty, she seems to be finally securing a concrete following with a sultry catalogue of blue-eyed soul.
Her opener, Fyfe Dangerfield, had hit a similarly impressive high back in 2010. Before Ellie Goulding and Lily Allen had their slice of the ‘schmaltzy-John-Lewis-Christmas-ad’ pie, it was Fyfe’s cover of ‘She’s Always A Woman’ that stormed the charts, while simultaneously reminding Christmas shoppers where to get toasters and scented candles. But Dangerfield followed this success with half a decade of radio silence.
At St George’s, the stone was rolled away to reveal a set as disorientating as Kanye West’s one-man meltdown when he headlined Glastonbury in 2015. Much like Kanye’s muddy crowd at Worthy Farm, Dangerfield’s Bristol congregation, politely propped on wooden pews, found themselves unable to look away from a set that flirted with brilliance and an existential breakdown.
Fyfe opened by hinting at the cause of his hiatus, singing, “Snakes and ladders in suits/ weren’t going to let me through,” while draped in a psychedelic scarf and a palpable layer of social anxiety. Between each song in his set, from which his Christmas hit was notably absent, Dangerfield offered up jarring changes of genre and outfits. This only bolstered the feeling that this was a man recovering from something of an artistic crisis.
For one beautiful, melancholy piano number he donned a sort of hooded dressing gown that completely obscured his face, giving the impression of a post-divorce grim reaper. It was impossible to look away, and in moments free of vocal showboating and sartorial gimmicks, Dangerfield’s raw talent was mesmerizing. This was particularly prominent in one stunning track accompanied by the bass ukulele in which he sang, “found something crying/ it was my soul.”
The shift between acts was extreme, with Joan As Police Woman cool as a cucumber during her arsenal of smooth ballads. It is not Wasser’s silky voice that sells tickets, but her radiating musicianship. Halfway through her set she said, “I just love playing music. It’s the greatest thing, and just everything I care about.” This is a bit like Katie Hopkins telling you she likes attention.
Wasser’s appreciation of music is imbued in every twitch and lyric. Starting with Damned Devotion’s lead single, ‘Tell Me,’ her band’s harmonies were tighter than a sumo wrestler’s wetsuit, and her command of the stage that of a consummate professional. Asking to dim the lights seemed a conscious act of sexification, and although a crowd member responded to her question “are they dimming?” with the somewhat cruel heckle of “cataracts,” it worked. It was a set so sultry that I couldn’t help but wonder what the Jesus fresco made of all this.
But by the second hour, it became obvious that her reinvention had the opposite effect of Dangerfield’s. Where he was jarringly eclectic, Joan was frustratingly consistent, and eventually the gig had the hallmarks of an interminable church service. As the small crowd exodus proved, neither the promise of saving your soul, nor a set of blue-eyed soul can keep people in a church pew for more than an hour.