Archive for April, 2018|Monthly archive page

Joan as Police Woman, Vienna, 31 March 2018 and Hove, 23 April 2018

We are regulars at Joan as Police Woman gigs. I think this is about our fifth time, though the first outside of the UK. All bar one of these share one thing in common: the intimacy of the venue. Intimacy enables Joan Wasser to play to her key strength: emotion. The venue matters, therefore. Last time we saw her, in her collaboration with Benjamin Lazar Davis in Brighton, UK, the venue was rammed and the bar was simply in the way. Tonight was perfect, though as bizarre as they come. At the Ottaker Brauerei (a real working brewery) one might have expected the bar to be in the way again. But no, the bar has its own room and the concert space is what it says on the can. Space. Nothing fancy – a dark hole with steel girders. Perfect for Joan as Police Woman (seemingly she has performed there twice before).

l-r Parker Kindred, Jacob Silver, Joan Wasser, Eric Lane and Jared Samuels

By contrast, The Old Market in Hove, UK, is rather less industrial. Once it was a market hall, but as venue it is versatile, fully furbished, though with visible wooden beams holding up the roof. I think it was her first time at the Old Market (having previously also appeared at Brighton’s Concorde 2, if I am not mistaken). It did not matter, the intimacy was there. The audience engaged, though clearly the band, coming to the end of a comprehensive European tour, were admitting their weariness. For some bands, this could easily lead to fractiousness; but these musicians seem very much at ease with one another. It was a much more relaxed performance than Vienna.

Now this was the Damned Devotion tour. Dammed Devotion is her latest solo album and it is worthy of a collection to add to her existing body of work. Actually, it was not until seeing Joan as Police Woman in Vienna that I realised how different this album is from its predecessors. The big clue came in the stage setup – three sets of keyboards – not seen before. We were reassured to see her long-time percussionist, Parker Kindred (left), mount the stage. He was intricately supported by bassist, Jacob Silver. Together they kept an order to the proceedings; Kindred’s timing is impeccable and it was great to be close enough to spend time watching a master caress and cajole a drum kit. It was also the first time that I have listened to a band from the drum kit outwards. By which I mean, the beats come first, followed by bass, keyboard and vocals. And with Joan as Police Woman live, that seemed to make sense.

And that is another reason why Damned Devotion is different, Kindred gets his moment to let rip on Joan’s uncharacteristic “dance track”, Steed (for Jean Genet).   I’ve never heard Wasser sing so high at such tempo and with so much noise

Wasser with Jared Samuel in background

behind her, not only Kindred’s percussion, but also two sets of keyboards played by Jared Samuel and Eric Lane. Equally, Wasser must rightly assert herself. On her album, Classic, I always celebrate her divinity captured in the song The Magic: “And I find I am face to face with none other than me; I’ve got the mirror up against the marquee; And all it reads is, I am fine, I am divine; But there is a wild side going on behind the sign”. We got it in the set, of course, but it is now complemented by her lastest self-anthem, The Silence with its clear lyric “My body, my choice, her body, her choice”. The Magic is subtle in tone, if not lyric. The Silence is neither.

This is a tour to promote The Damned Devotion, it is certainly not a greatest hits. Though it was good to hear Eternal Flame, the song that introduced me to Joan as Police Woman back in 2005 with its beachy-kitsch video. And there is one other addition to the repertoire. What is it Like to be You?, Wasser tells the audience, in a peculiarly revelatory exchange with the audience, is about her deeply missed father who passed away a couple of years ago. Of course, she is not the only daughter to fail to ask questions of a parent before they die. Wasser laments this with her father and captures her lament in this song. This is doubly intimate and it is why venues matter.

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Vienna’s washrooms

So there we are looking for breakfast. We end up at Schwedenplatz. We cross the Donau Kanal using the Schwedenbrücke and stumble into Spelunke on Taborstraße. It is one of those cafés that doubles as a nightclub. Versatile. But as we have found over the years, the proof is in the toilet, and Spelunke is special. The breakfast was ok, too.

So, the first challenge is to get in. Because one does not expect to find instructions on the floor, the tantalising glass door just refuses to open. It takes a couple of helpful women to point out the floor sensor (above left).

Once in, there’s more going on. Now I did not go into the women’s toilet, but my partner came out with a couple of interesting shots from inside a cubicle where the portal window has a couple of surprises (left and right).

And just in case you cannot find the loo roll, it is illuminated.

So the next day, we are after breakfast again. We concede Stadtcafé adjacent to Freyung, a rather central location. The café is pretty regular. The porridge was good. Then in the toilet one finds another mysterious piece of equipment, albeit designed by Dyson (right). These three-in-one contraptions never seem satisfactory and always challenge. The wash basin itself is a bit of a mystery. It is more of a drainage channel.

As a design idea, this borrows directly, I think, from the old ghastly Wallgate three-in-ones that seemed very popular with English public authorities either building or refurbishing their public conveniences (left).

Wallgate picture by Retroscania (Flickr) from Dudley bus station

Das Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This museum and art gallery is just about as outrageous as it gets. The only concession to normality is the cloak room. Everything else screams empire, wealth, kleptocracy and vanity. It’s great.

Recently, our favourite art historian, Andrew Graham-Dixon, made a series of four documentaries about the British Royal Collection. It’s a familiar story of European royals, they have all used art for propaganda, as a store of value, diplomatic gesturing and self-gratification. The Habsburgs were no different. Their collection is equally outrageous, but at least the Austrian Bundes Republic now owns the collection and a grand building in which to display it.

David Teniers’ fantastic picture of Leopold Wilhelm (1614-62) inspecting his haul of 51 Italian works from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton in Brussels (above left) just captures the obscenity – or scale economies – of art buying and collecting. It is simply my favourite picture in the Italian collection on show which took us 3 hours to view with as much respect that we could.

The curators enjoy juxtaposition. Some of which vaguely work. Others not. Putting Titian up against Picasso is an interesting one (above right). Titian’s intimate portrait of Pope Paul III (1546) was, I sense, intended to humanise him, without diminishing his stature as Pope. He sits. His hands and arms are almost close enough to touch. But not quite. By contrast, Picasso’s portrait of Carlotta Valdivia (painted, not surprisingly, in his blue period in Barcelona, 1904) is not accessible at all. She was not ostentatiously rich, but her pearl earring and cowl suggest more wealth than Picasso had at that time as a bohemian. The slight rosy colouring of her face suggests, apparently, a former physical beauty swept away by the years.

This flattery of sitters is not uncommon. In England, we know that Holbein, Henry VIII’s court painter, overdid it on Anne of Cleves before the King married her. Probably not a good idea. This overdoing is on display again with Titian’s second  portraits of Elisabeth d’este (1534) who looks amazingly good for her 60 years’. Good work.

Over the years we have learnt a lot about how to look at pictures and, indeed, what to look for. Andrew Graham-Dixon taught us to go for the detail. For example, Lazarus in, what is simply a landscape painting by Pieter Breugel. So, when viewing landscapes, it is the little detail that makes the difference. Take, for example, the view of Schönbrunn Palace gardens (1758/61) by Tintoretto (right). There are lots of court figures in the grounds. But, of course, to keep everything perfect, the groundsmen had to follow them with their rollers. And look closely (left), we can see them!

More recently, Waldemar Januszczak’s documentary about Mary Magdelene, has us always looking for her in depictions of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have found her at Jesus’ foot in The Lamentation of Christ by Savoldo (around 1513, right), but probably.

Another Graham-Dixon prompt is to look for Ghouls, particularly done by Germans. Now this one doesn’t quite qualify, but by goodness, that is one heck of a snake (Raphael in 1518) that St Margarete has to slay (left).

The Gods are always good value in 16 Century art. Venus and Adonis, in particular. Of course, Adonis is destined to be killed by a wild beast (Venus knows this because she has that most awkward of powers, the divine power of prediction). But when if comes to affairs of the flesh, this does not really matter. I trust that when one’s nipple is being squeezed (right), the future is of little concern. Veronese’s picture tries to warn us with storm clouds, but my eyes are elsewhere.

Tucked away in one of the small rooms off the main gallery is a series of four pictures about the seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1566). Each one has a profile portrait to make the point. The portraits are entirely made up of non-human components – for want of a better word – such as fruits and, here (left), fish. They are extraordinary pictures. Peculiarly unsettling.

There are, of course, pictures that remind one of earlier times. My mother was particularly enamoured by the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Delilah was a lot of a baddie, and not only took away Samson’s strength by cutting off his hair, but also had him blinded. My mother was keen for me to grow my hair, which I did, but I was never strong enough to push down a temple (top panel, right Tintoretto 1543).

Finally, there are some pictures that quite simply do not belong in this part of the collection. There’s a Turner, for goodness sake (another attempt at juxtaposition). There is also Bathers by Paul Cezanne (1890, left).

OK, we had no time for the huge collection of low countries art, Gustav Klimt and Dürer. We’re coming back, soon, to mop up.