On a day like last Friday, gloriously sunny, warm, and the start of the weekend, pretty much the last place you want to go is deep into the bowels of a dark, cavernous, windowless live-music venue. As gorgeous as the Columbia City Theater is, last Friday was just not the day--nor was Joan as Police Woman (aka Joan Wasser) the entertainer--to keep the crowd at full attention.
It wasn't just that I was longing to be outside; Wasser would have kept me from straying back into the Bourbon Bar if her live act remotely resembled anything off her lush, lovely new album, The Deep Field. The sparse three-piece set-up--drums, Moog synthesizer, and Wasser alternating between a keyboard and guitar--minus an electric bass, was the first letdown. The album is alive and bubbling with a deep, living bass tone that adds depth to her groovy, organ-tinged compositions. Sure, the Moog was doing its best to recreate the effect, but it just seemed lazy to me. You've got a great new album, JAPW! Why not drive the message home with a fuller band that can better reproduce all the layers on it?
Dressed in a leather pantsuit something like Pat Benatar, Wasser could have rocked a killer bitch persona. The girl sure has a voice that could live up to it, and The Deep Field is a perfect vehicle for her soulful style, reminiscent of Fiona Apple or Jolie Holland's sultry vibrato. But Friday her vocals were drowned in sound throughout the show, and her half-hearted gestures to the sound tech failed to achieve leveled results. "More vocals!" someone shouted. "I can't even hear myself," Wasser dourly replied. After about 10 songs, I was over it, and wandered back into the Bourbon Bar to join my friends who had left long before.
The Scene: Bourbon Bar was bumping, venue was mellow, quiet, and brooding, about half-full. Young, quirky Columbia City crowd.