Cat Power at the 9:30 Club, 2/8/09

Let me just say this: Cat Power is so sexy (in a boho kind of way) that it’s not even funny. Plus, it definitely helps that she’s got a voice that smolders with soul.

So last night I went to the 9:30 Club to see Cat Power. I have to admit, I had my doubts before the show: after all, Chan Marshall is a woman known for her (sometimes) notorious stage fright and performance breakdowns. But on the other hand: my god, what a voice! But from what I’ve gathered on the Intar-webs, Chan Marshall has cleaned up her act after becoming sober, and now delivers shows that are at least professional.

Well, I’m glad to say that the show last night was a very good one. No, Cat Power does not have “stage presence” as traditionally defined: she doesn’t really banter, doesn’t do outsized, bigger-than-life gestures, or send the audience into a frenzy. In fact, Cat Power spent most of the show singing indirectly at the audience, either at her band or to the side of the stage. Her movement on the stage can aptly be described as a kind of cat-like (pun fully intended) prowling, complete with hand gestures not particuarly aimed at anyone in general. Suffice to say, Cat Power is not a traditional “rock star” showman.

But whatever showmanship she lacked, she made up more than enough for it in sheer ability and skill. I mean, I knew she possessed an incredible voice, but hearing it live, coming from an actual human being, is definitely something else. I experienced a kind of cognitive dissonance: how could a woman of Cat Power’s age sing with a voice that bespeaks of a lifetime worth of living–good and bad? Suffice to say, she had me at the first note.

Cat Power performed materials mostly from her last two studio release: Jukebox and Dark End of the Street (which came from the same session as Jukebox). Some highlights:

1) “Lord, Help The Poor and Needy:” The album version of this song features a pretty spare arrangement, with only Chan Marshall’s vocals backed up by bass and guitar. Live, Cat Power almost does this one solo, with the guitar and bass turned down fairly low in the mix. At one point, it’s just her vocals, accompanied by claps from the audience. But the next thing I knew, the band comes in full force and just fucking jams. The sudden change in dynamics is jarring, but in a good way, as it reveals the raw power of the blues and gospel music.

2) “Fortunate Son:” An interesting choice to cover Creedence, and the song itself is alll but unrecognizable from the Creedence original. Cat Power’s phrasing is completely different and much flatter, but the band, on the other hand, plays it fast and furious, with a kick-ass organ (synthesized) solo. At the end, Chan Marshall’s vocals are completely buried in the mix amidst the squall of guitar feedback. So yes, her cover conveys the aggressive essence of the original, but in a totally different manner.

Those are the two songs that really stood out in her set, not that the rest of it was bad by any means. Overall, it was a good show, and made me appreciate her band much better, because let’s face it, the studio albums highlight Cat Power’s vocals. After all, why wouldn’t they? It is the money-maker after all. But seeing her as a part of a band gave me a new dimension of appreciation for her music.


2 Responses to “Cat Power at the 9:30 Club, 2/8/09”

  1. nick rock Says:

    Amazing show, lackluster review. You failed to mention her exceedingly proficient band, at least beyond the fact that she, indeed, had a band. These guys are cream of the crop Memphis studio players who make excellent choices from note-to-note. They all, Chan included, played off each other in amazing ways. The resulting dynamic is hard to describe, so I guess I can’t fault you for not trying. The one word that keeps coming back to me is SUBTLETY. As impressive, versatile, and emotive and Chan’s voice is, it was never overbearing. Same goes for her band. One of the few truly “magical” shows I’ve had the opportunity to witness.

  2. geoff Says:

    I actually really liked your review, and contrary to Nick Rock above, you do touch on your increasing appreciation of her band. I can’t believe I’ve never seen her live–I’m so intrigued by her strange and shy performance mannerisms. I also like the way you describe her voice as showing much more wisdom and age than her age.

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