MELBOURNE RECITAL CENTRE, FRIDAY JUNE 27, 2014
Review & photos by Michael Mackenzie
Expectation is a powerful drug.
Just when you think you’ve got it under control, Joan Wasser (aka Joan As Policewoman) comes thundering back into your life with another moving bunch of songs, so you wrap a scarf around your neck and head into winter, because Joan’s your favourite drug dealer and her live performance will take you to that other place.
So imagine how this addict felt when the deal fell through.
Oh sure, Joan was there. She opened with four songs from her latest album The Classic, and over the night displayed her command of keyboards, guitar and often processed violin. The voice soared, the repertoire unfolded. It’s a repertoire I’ve always adored from her first solo album ‘Real Life’, released in 2006.
However something was missing, there was a disconnection – her three piece band were from New York, impeccable musicians all, but unfortunately the Melbourne Recital Centre, the sound mix, and the performance itself conspired to rob the night of much of its magic.
Sad to say it was my first time inside this major performance space; however for a room designed from the ground up for live music the sound where I sat in the middle of the space was atrocious. No separation, indecipherable vocals, and a booming muddiness. My companion spent much of the night with her fingers in her ears to help block out the low frequency rumble.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the space. Perhaps it was down to the mix, although a friend who sat at the back, near the mixing desk, said she thought the sound was incredible.
In any case, in these days of professional touring one expects better from a venue designed for music, albeit amplified in this instance.
By contrast the reports of the following night’s gig at the Meeniyan Town Hall were glowing, where the sound sparkled and the audience sat enraptured. Goddammit.
Then there were the band dynamics themselves. I didn’t see a previous tour where Joan and her musicians apparently held Melbourne’s Atheneaum Theatre in the palm of their hands. At the Recital Centre the band barely looked at each other, and never into the auditorium. Technically perfect and emotionally bereft. Joan did her best to arouse some rapport with her guitarist, drummer and keyboardist but it all felt a bit forced.
As a devotee of live music I felt robbed. I love watching musicians enjoying the dynamics of the music they perform, because isn’t that one of the big reasons we’re all in the same space? But it was not to be.
Joan herself seemed a little uncomfortable. She spoke a few times between songs, but was clearly finding it hard to build a rapport.
Sometimes expectation can be too much to live up to. But when one of your favourite artists continues to put out such exciting music, it’s disappointing not to have it matched by the live experience.
Serves me right for not driving to Meeniyan.