Wearing 4-inch heels and a bell-bottomed suit that could have belonged to Dakota Fanning's costume rack from The Runaways, Joan Wasser and her band, Joan As Police Woman, launched into its first number at RecordBar last night without a word of introduction.
It was one of those nights at RecordBar when you could hear the clinks of glasses and the chatter in the kitchen due to the bar's eerie silence. About 20 people watched the stage, rapt. (To be fair, it was also a Wednesday.) For the first few songs -- including a chilling, soulful version of "The Magic" -- Joan As Police Woman remained poker-faced during numbers but made up for it in lush harmonies. Wasser's sultry, soulful croon had a Fiona Apple-like sensuality, far sexier than the cutesy, airy melodies of Feist and less spacey than St. Vincent. Retro organ and foot-tapping funk backed up Wasser's frank, wry delivery, and harsh rasps punctuated her lines with venom.
All at once, with a brash, funny introduction, Wasser spoke directly to the small crowd with the ease and candor of a stage veteran. Awkward silences didn't scare her, and neither did the deathly still audience. And, of course, before long the crowd talk devolved into a general discussion of barbecue. Wasser solicited opinions from the crowd for places to hit up for sauced, smoked meat on the way out of town.
"Oklahoma Joe's," people cried.
Joan looked at the audience, terrified. "Oklahoma?"
"Oklahoma Joe's," they said.
"I'll be sure to jot that down," she replied. "I don't think I've ever been to Kansas City before."
"Yes, you have," one woman from the crowd said confidently.
"You've been to Lawrence," she said.
"That's not here," Wasser countered, confused.
"It's close -- it's spitting distance," the woman said. "About 35 miles."
Wasser looked at the crowd as if gazing at a particularly adorable puppy. "A spitting distance," she grinned.
Sadly, Joan As Police Woman didn't play "Eternal Flame" -- one of the band's more famous songs that I was particularly looking forward to for most of the night -- but the band did continue to charm with its beautifully rendered, lightly tart pop, before leaving the stage a bit before midnight.
Locals South Island Sea Magic opened up the show at 10 p.m. with sweet, wide-eyed vocals and earnest, Postal Service-like synths. The band would erupt into fiery spoken-word flows with an urgency that was truly compelling when matched with the band's echoing background tracks.