Emotions were high at the New Yorker’s stripped-back solo show.
“It keeps art alive, live music,” Joan Wasser ruminates amid a sprawling list of acknowledgements – this one directed at Melbourne International Arts Festival director, Jonathan Holloway, for having invited her.
The program has brought the New Yorker to “the belly of the whale” that is Melbourne Recital Centre. Despite admitting she spent her plane trip from Sydney that very morning sobbing hysterically – a culmination of too little sleep and too high an altitude – she’s rapt to be here.
“I barely have to do a thing,” she remarks, in awe of the pristine acoustics of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall.
It’s true, the venue elevates the sparsity of her solo performance perfectly – her soft falsetto hangs on the air above the crowd like a canopy, crisp and delicate. Every note lingers just long enough.
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The only time the tears threaten to return is when the audience begin cheering during the opening notes of ‘Human Condition’. She sheepishly asks us to stop, so touched by the crowd’s unanimous enthusiasm that her voice catches in her throat.
As she pores through a career worth of tracks – her Joanthology, if you will – she reminisces on the instances that inspired the poignant words littered through her discography.
After becoming love struck by a man she’d known “for five minutes”, Wasser was certain that she could make him hers if she just wrote a song beautiful enough. While ‘Real Life’ didn’t have the desired effect of persuading its subject to fall for her, “I hope it works for someone else,” she offers in her strong American lilt.
As for ‘The Magic’, it was simply a means of stopping her head from spinning for just a moment. Sat at a towering grand piano, a pained expression on her face as the words spill from her lips, it’s hard to imagine not falling for Joan As Police Woman.
She introduces her “band” – a 1973 Roland Rhythm Arranger – to back her on just a few tracks, its churning beat sitting comfortably amongst her gentle guitar fingerings.
Despite overheard musings in the post-show shuffle that the performance was “a bit too avant-garde” in parts, Wasser’s point that live music is the backbone of art stands true. In the last moments of her set, Joan As Police Woman sings of “looking for the magic”. As for the crowd, we’d spent the past two hours watching it unfold before us.
Highlight: ‘Real Life’, which was completely elevated by its origin tale.
Lowlight: While Wasser playing for an extra half-hour was a welcomed treat, it did make for a grumpy Friday morning.
Crowd favourite: ‘Human Condition’.
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