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After 12 Years, Joan as Police Woman Returns to Minneapolis

The artist is in town for a one-off show thanks to a Russian folk singer (and also, kind of, Bob Dylan).

Giles Clement

Joan Wasser hasn't played in Minneapolis for 12 years.

Wasser toured the US plenty with a number of bands throughout the '90s and early 2000s—the Dambuilders, Antony and the Johnsons—before she started releasing music under the name Joan as Police Woman in 2006. But the more records she put out (now roughly a dozen, including live albums, cover-song collections, and an EP), the less she hit the road over here.

"What happened was, my music took off overseas," Wasser says. "People really took to it—I started touring over there a lot."

"Popularly overlooked" is how The Atlantic described Wasser's music, noting that she's never gotten the acclaim of her contemporaries or collaborators, a list that includes Anohni, Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens, and Lou Reed. (She recorded her most recent album, 2021's The Solution Is Restless, with Afrobeat legend Tony Allen just before his death.)

Of her quarter-million monthly Spotify listeners, few are stateside. Touring the US made less sense as time went on; eventually, other than the occasional show in New York, where she's from, she stopped playing here almost entirely. "Nobody's fault," she notes, "just 'right place, right time' happened to be in the UK and Europe.'" Her last show in Minneapolis was in 2011 at the Cedar Cultural Center.

So what brings her back to the frozen north now, in the middle of winter, for a one-off show at The First Unitarian Society? Thank Vladimir Vysotsky.

The Soviet-era folk singer, known for his political commentary and lyrical wit, has been compared to Bob Dylan, and he still influences Russian artists to this day. This weekend, a three-day festival called Vysotsky+Dylan: The Summit is bringing artists, students, and scholars from around the world to St. Paul for a series of lectures, forums, and concerts centered on the cultural and musical impact of the two musicians.

Wasser is one of many musicians who'll perform as part of the Vysotsky+Dylan summit, but friends who lived here weren't going to let her get away with just that. "They kept saying, 'Joan, you have to do your own show here. Just set up your own show!'" she says. "This is why I'm doing a one-off show in Minneapolis, with no tour around it, and no recent release."

During a typical Joan as Police Woman tour, Wasser would play two sets—one full-band performance with drums, bass, keys, lots of harmonies, and a solo set where she plays grand piano and guitar. The latter show is what she'll bring to this stage, drawing from her deep catalogue—including creative reinterpretations like those on her two cover albums, from David Bowie's "Sweet Thing" to T.I.'s "Whatever You Like"—on the Unitarian Society's grand piano and taking advantage of the room's pristine sound.

"It's a very intimate concert, and I plan on attempting to make everyone cry," she laughs.

If you miss it, well... it might not be another 12 years before there's another Joan as Police Woman show in Minneapolis, but it also might be.

Or, you know. You could always catch her in Zurich, Malaga, or Leeds on her three-month European tour this summer.

Joan as Police Woman
Where: The First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis
When: Friday, March 3, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15; more info here.

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