Joan as Policewoman at Village Underground
While Joan as Policewoman’s most recent effort Classic might be worlds away from attaining its titular status, it’s still very much a step in the right direction for an artist who has faced accusations of being bland and middling. Even in her somewhat inert early albums, one quality that’s always separated Joan from many of her modern singer-songwriter peers is her sense of humour. In the musical landscape in which Joan resides, where there’s a depressingly prominent propensity for earnestness, a comedic edge is really refreshing. Joan’s, most noticeable in her playful videos for songs like Magic and the Reggie Watts-featuring Classic, positions her closer to Feist than Dido, Natasha Khan or the ubiquitous Lana Del Ray.
It’s a shame that these comedic tendencies go unexploited at The Village Underground. With an opening selection of songs from Classic that, when played live anyway, veer a little too close to the radio friendliness she seems to have elevated herself above, Joan could’ve used something that better demonstrated what her last two albums have: that she’s, somehow, unique.
The spirited organ sounds of opener What Would You Do are surprisingly ineffective in getting the crowd moving, just as the following Holy City is. Obviously this is a crowd that favours thoughtful appreciation to dancing but Holy City, a possible career-best for Joan, has a smile-inducingly joyful chorus that deserves a stronger reaction than it gets.
Though forcefully soulful her voice isn’t especially versatile, a fact that’s forgivable given her command of instruments. For the duration of the set she effortlessly flits between keyboard, guitar and violin, playing them all with the charisma and confidence that you’d expect from a woman of such intimidating talent. The scattery drums, emotive vocals and sparse guitar of New Year’s Day complement each other beautifully to offer the night’s zenith, and by the time Joan picks up her violin for the chaotic, mournful close of the song, her band sounds more like indie-freaks Galaxie 500 than themselves.
Older songs like Feed the Light sound much more adventurous than they formerly did and gain a new lease of life when played in a set that’s largely comprised of newer, better tracks. But it’s the encore comprised of the deeply contrasting Classic and Your Song that best encapsulates why Joan is on the upward trajectory she is. The former, a charmingly romantic and up-beat a capella ditty, and the latter a powerfully melancholic track, together demonstrate how easy she finds it to jump between sincerity and playfulness, something which most modern acts, sadly, have a much harder time doing.
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Watch the video for Holy City here: