“Welcome to Stonehenge,” Joan Wasser deadpans when the PA system is finally ready, 90 minutes after the last support act finished. Yet the problems aren’t over. Joan As Police Woman can’t hear themselves sing, and the bass guitar sounds faulty. “This is the most insane stage we’ve ever played,” their leader drawls in astonishment. “I think we’ve slipped into some special area no one knows about.” I console myself that this is what Glastonbury must have been like in the early days, before the organisers knew what they were doing, but still feel cold and impatient.
Once Wasser has stopped giggling, her trio acquits itself well in the circumstances. Seeing such artful New Yorkers under rural Kent’s midnight sky did seem incongruous, however. For these cohorts of Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright, Wye Fayre, held in the grounds of a former agricultural college, was another dimension – not so much boutique as barnyard festival. Their usual haunt is wherever the art-rock crowd go when they need something like Nina Simone to heal their lovelorn souls. This resembled a ramshackle county show.
Jeff Buckley’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Wasser brings boho chic to the faintly MORish but utterly delectable songs on Joan as Police Woman’s debut album, Real Life. Her voice, live and on record, is gorgeously malleable. Tonight, it hits a burnished stridency on “Feed the Light” and “The Ride”. Coming early in the piece, though, the latter suffers from her initial distractedness. By the entreating “Cristobel”, her vocal might have been hammered out of bronze. Yet it’s ductile enough to emote the upper reaches of Real Life’s title track, plangent here on solo piano.
Ben Perowsky, an attentive drummer between yawns, does a game Antony impression on backing vocals for “I Defy”. Bassist Rainy Orteca is elegantly “chapeau-ed”, as Wasser puts it, in a furry bonnet. Neither they nor their frontwoman, the epitome of Chrissie Hynde-cool in her leather jacket, will forget headlining at Withersdane Hall in a hurry. When, as is her wont and for no obvious reason, Wasser dedicates Happiness Is a Violator to Condoleezza Rice, it only confirms the general air of bemusement.