August 27, 2011

Cat Power Live at Webster Hall



A band of old and shaggy men walk onto the stage, one at a time to their instruments and they begin to play something unrecognized. A few minutes later Chan Marshall walks out, holding a mug presumably filled with tea, to cat-call cheers coming mostly from the women in the crowd. She sets the mug down and says nothing to acknowledge the crowd, but sways in semicircles, tapping her palms on her hips until her first verse.

Her insecurity is so available that it cannot be hidden by the darkness on the stage. For a woman of such astonishing talent, she has no idea. There are no press photographers and no stage lights. Camera-phone displays light the faces of the crowd brighter than Marshall's, whose silhouette is all that appears in their photos.

It was enough to hear her voice. Her cover of Nico's "These Days" was welcome but, just like her own material tonight, unrecognizable from its source. After multiple lullabies the restless crowd was rewarded with a performance of "The Greatest" that was convulsive and violent as Marshall's shadow glowed against a backdrop of lights flashing purple. Before the song finished Marshall disappeared stage right, leaving her band, confused but not surprised, to play an extended outro. Then they too left, one at a time, and the stage was empty.

Even in Cat Power's long career, she has never developed as a performer. She has been able to find success by playing shows that run like practice sessions. Her shyness revealed by the bangs that used to cover her eyes, the dimly lit stage and her restless dance.

Marshall returned to the stage almost ten minutes later with another mug of tea. She began singing again, looking uncomfortable throughout: standing with her back to the audience, signaling to the sound booth to raise her vocals, shaking her head. At the end of the night, Marshall asked for the house lights so that we were lit brighter than she for two final songs. The band closed with a version of "I Don't Blame You" that was recognizable only by its lyrics, and as Cat Power curtseyed awkwardly and clapped for her band, it was over.