Review: Cat Power at Gothic Theatre, 11/23/13
It was somewhere around an hour between the end of opener Nico Turner's set and the beginning of the Cat Power set. By the time Chan Marshall took the stage, some people seemed to be getting restless. Marshall more than made up for any kind of delay, though, with a generous selection of songs and a solid, charming, powerful delivery from the beginning. Even her covers, in which she altered to suit her imagination -- particularly on songs like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," where she changed the words slightly to fit in with her particular cadence and style -- were compelling and she effectively made them her own. Unless you knew it was a Stones song, it was not easy at all to tell.
The first part of the set featured Marshall playing what looked like a Danelectro guitar with a Les Paul style body. At times, her tones had a burnished melancholy vibe to them suggesting loneliness and spaciousness. In others, the sounds were sparkly and even spiky like some old blues guitar feel to it. Once Marshall got comfortable, she joked with the crowd, but even before then, she was effusive in thanking folks for coming out and supporting her music.
It was a bit like a kid discovering it was okay to be doing this thing that's scary but completely normal and then testing the waters to see what the parameters of the evening might be. But people were pretty enthusiastic, so Marshall had nothing to worry about there. Before one of the songs, she seemed to be getting increasingly more comfortable, joking, "I love all you intelligent ass people. Your asses are intelligent." But then, as she sat at the piano for the next part of her show, she seemed more self-conscious and kept asking us if we were mad at her. If for whatever reason anyone did happen to be mad, they were certainly in the minority and handily drowned out by the vast majority of people who were most definitely not upset.
There was also more than a bit of Marshall's idiosyncratic sense of humor throughout the set. In the middle of one song, Marshall clicked the two microphones together and said, "I just made them touch four times." After that song, someone yelled loudly that Marshall was pretty. She just smiled and said, "I'm old. I'm happily old," before clarifying that she's middle aged.
On this night, Marshall's overall presentation was charmingly off-the-cuff. When she sang, she had a powerful expressiveness in her phrasing, and her smoky voice exuded confidence in the feeling behind her words. When she spoke, though, it was more like playful sketches of thought and thinking out loud among a group of friends, which it seemed to endear her to a lot of people in attendance.
The last time Marshall was in town, she had been playing with a full band using all manner of instrumentation. Here, she played by herself. It takes guts to get up in front of a lot of people, just be you with your voice, playing one instrument and tapping out your own rhythm as you play and keeping it together, with only a handful of real mistakes. There were mistakes here, but Marshall briefly acknowledged them to herself, and they did not derail the show.
In the end, the flubs were just an interesting detail in a show from an artist that isn't afraid of her flaws or making mistakes -- not anymore, at least, and not to the point of breakdown and mental paralysis. She just admitted it for a split second and moved. Closing her set, Marshall bowed and graciously accepted some small gifts from people in the audience before meekly making her way off stage.
Earlier in the evening, Nico Turner turned in a set filled with whispery vocals that had a calm coolness that provided a great contrast to her dissonant guitar work. In terms of attitude and non-standard rock music songwriting, the set and the music recalled Mecca Normal in a less abstract and punk rock mood. It wasn't atonal, necessarily, it just wasn't conventionally melodic, and it was more atmospheric and textured in a way that many people probably weren't used to hearing from a lone woman with an electric guitar.
Personal Bias: I love artists who can speak honestly and poetically about being uncomfortable and dealing with their unreconciled and complex emotional states without putting on some phony pose to cover up the reality of all of that. Chan Marshall is a master of writing songs in that vein.
Random Detail: Ran into former Time For a Haircut bassist Noah Winningham at the show.
By the Way: It sounded like Marshall said she'd be recording something new in the first part of the new year.
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