Joan Wasser is going all out to ensure that her set lives up to the title of her fifth album, The Classic.
The Brooklyn singer-songwriter, performing under the stage name Joan As Police Woman, is wearing a gold halter-neck top that matches her gold violin. Her material’s soulful sound is abetted by smooth sax and moog, while the members of her three-piece backing band look like they’ve been airdropped from the 1970s.
It’s a retreat from her torch singer roots into the oversaturated market for retro grooves that confers welcome results for large sections of this 90-minute set. Ensuring that she delivers more than a pastiche of classic soul, she acknowledges that she doesn’t “want to be nostalgic” (‘Good Together’) by gently updating the sound.
This contemporisation is most emotionally, danceably powerful in stripped back form. ‘Get Direct’ is a Prince-esque slow jam with lush violin section; ‘New Year’s Day’ builds edgy rhythm patterns between Parker Kindred’s drums and Eric Lane’s moog bass; while the encore of ‘The Magic’ remains the second cousin of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’.
The set’s magic starts to wane when she tries for a more calculatedly commercial R&B sound. There’s a frostiness to her vocal delivery that detracts from Matt Whyte’s joyously funky wah-wah guitar on ‘Shame’, while break-up anthem ‘Good Together’ descends into a maelstrom of intensely muso, post-rock guitar and swirling keyboards.
It’s a coldness that’s swept away with her closing two numbers. The four-way acapella vocals on doo-wop ‘The Classic’, which sees the band lined up for stylised barbershop dance moves, reveals both postmodern pastiche and humour.
Solo closer ‘Your Song’, meanwhile, demonstrates the value of simplicity as Wasser achingly asks over a dark keyboard line, “Who would know if life was really worth living?” It’s a return to her torch singer roots that brings her gig full cycle and, if it stops short of being a classic, there are enough moments to make it worth living through.
Gig date: April 19