live show report: Joan As Police Woman

live show report: Joan As Police Woman

I got a press invite to an interesting show last week—Joan As Police Woman (the alias of singer-songwriter Joan Wasser) was playing an intimate gig at the Cha Cha Lounge in Silver Lake. This invite was intriguing to me for three reasons: 1) I love a gig invite (I love a gig invite), 2) I like Joan As Police Woman's music, 3) the Cha Cha Lounge is awesome, but not a traditional music venue, which promised something more than the average stand-in-crowd-looking-up-at-stage experience.

I've been to the Cha Cha Lounge a couple of times. The lighting inside is vividly red, giving everything inside an aspect either sexy or sinister, depending on how your night goes. The drinks are normal, which is something you shouldn't ever take for granted if you like going to bars and drinking at them. Sombreros hang from the ceiling, radiating good cheer.

I believe the first time I went to the Cha Cha Lounge was with my friend Alan Hanson, years before I moved to L.A. Alan was like our Los Angeles whisperer—every time we went out with him we ended up in a cool bar I'd never heard of, talking to hot people with excellent tattoos on their arms, and then I'd wake up the next day with my shit utterly rocked. Hanging out with Alan was like entering a corona of social certitude, an anti-FOMO zone. He gave off a warm glow that ensured that whatever you were doing with him was the best thing you could be doing at that moment. And he always had good L.A. stories too, like the time he delivered food to a Scientology building and almost got sucked into the vortex.

I took the bus to the Joan As Police Woman show, and I thought about Alan on the ride. I do every time I take public transportation in L.A., because Alan was a big L.A. public transportation advocate. In the last blog post he published before he died, he quoted the Thom Andersen video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself: "Who knows the city? Only those who walk. Only those who ride the bus." I took that shit to heart when I read it.

When I moved to New York back in 2012, I was too generally gobsmacked by the new city experience to locate anything significant or intentional about the way I moved through the streets; I took the bus because I needed to look at cheap Brooklyn apartments and my Google Maps told me it was the easiest way. When I moved to California, I saw early on that it would be pretty easy to just lock into Car Mode and be done with it, but I have the bandwidth to get to know the city in this way, so why not.'s nice to not have to look for parking!

Hilariously, I got off at my stop, started walking toward the Lounge, and was dismayed to see the sidewalk disappear before my eyes. Where once there was a pedestrian walkway, now there was just road shoulder. Take surface streets indeed, I thought, imagining Alan laughing at this L.A.-style predicament.

Anyway, I got where I was going in one piece. The Joan As Police Woman show was truly beautiful. The stage setup was simple, just setups for keyboard and acoustic guitar, which Wasser switched between throughout. The mood was cozy and loose; Wasser shared a story of how a diminutive and non-intimidating man was sent to enforce the payment of the piano rental earlier that day, talked about testing PAs for the show as if she was doing demos at Guitar Center, and at one point taped pages with song lyrics up to a pillar at eye level so she wouldn't forget them.

Watching her play songs like "Tell Me" and "The Ride" with heartfelt effortlessness, I realized there was a fourth, underlying reason for my interest in the show. Wasser is 53 years old and has been playing music professionally since 1990. She's been at this a long time, and it showed in the way she played at the Cha Cha Lounge—not overly rehearsed or polished, but totally assured, like there was no other way to play the songs other than the way she wanted to play them. I don't want to reduce her to her age, there's obviously more to it than that, but I also think there's something extremely special about listening to someone who is a seasoned performer, with all the understanding and gravity and finesse that seasoning entails.

Something weird has been happening to me as I get older. You think of the need for a "role model" as something that arises when you're younger, right? Often it's the youthful pop singers who are tasked with maintaining role model status—pop singers who have to balance being sexy for their adult fans with being wholesome for their child fans, a brain-melting dichotomy that can never last, causing the singers go on the record and, with total exasperation, say they never wanted to be a role model in the first place.

I never wanted or needed a role model when I was younger. It honestly never occurred to me. Now I find myself looking for, not "role models" necessarily, but people who exemplify a way to be after the flamin' hot energy of youth starts to die down. Looking for women, specifically, who get older and still seem to be doing what they want to do, who've been through it and keep going. Getting older is a privilege, and what you do with that privilege is very much up to you. It was nice to find a slice of what I've been looking for, in the red glow of the Cha Cha Lounge.

Joan as Police Woman has a new album out in September—her 12th studio album!—called Lemons, Limes and Orchids. Thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend.