Sometime around 2003, shortly after the release of Cat Power’s folk/punk/blues record You Are Free, The New Yorker ran a review on a show she played at Manahttan’s Battery Park. The reviewer laid into the singer-songwriter, saying that it is “foolhardy to describe a Cat Power event as a concert,” and going on to complain about the artist and her “rambling confessions” and “smoking a couple of cigarettes and playing with her hair.”
For the most part, the artist Chan Marshall has been known as an erratic and somewhat unreliable performer due to anxiety and problems with alcohol. After seeing her show on Wednesday at the House of Blues in Boston, I must say, with all due respect, f–k that. Marshall is both an incredibly adept performer and soulful as hell, entertaining a hypnotized crowd for close to two and a half hours.
Marshall’s new album Sun, which lent itself to most of the show’s setlist, was released on Sept. 3 to critical acclaim. Although it incorporates musical styles atypical of the previously standard soft acoustic folk punk for which Marshall is known, Sun stands on its own as a strong record all the way through its forays into electronica, pop, blues, funk and soul. It may even be one of Marshall’s best efforts yet, and that intricacy translated to a technically impressive live set.
Although Marshall produced the record completely on her own, the band’s recreations of her backing vocals and instrumentals really meshed well with Marshall’s woeful rasp as it wound its way through two different microphones. Additionally, the light show that accompanied the especially energetic tracks proved to be some of the best work I’ve seen in a long time, complete with laser beams shooting out in all different directions across the venue and the giant Cat Power logo lit up with footage of clouds flying across the display.
Marshall seemed solid and put together as she sipped her tea and lit sticks of incense between songs. As the show wound to a close and she tossed flowers out one by one to the audience (not as corny as it sounds, trust me), Marshall appeared so overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude towards the crowd that the hint of a tear seemed to come to her eye as she blew a kiss upward.
That raw emotion is undoubtedly the core of what makes a Cat Power performance so uniquely powerful. It’s rare these days to see an artist both physically and emotionally spend themselves onstage before an audience, but Marshall’s energy sent a palpable chill through the crowd that night, especially during a bare-bones cover of Pedro Infante’s “Angelitos Negros.”
To the critics, the skeptics and fans who doubted the validity of Marshall’s post-rehab endeavors, let me say once and unequivocally that Cat Power is back in full force, a pillar of the modern female singer-songwriter archetype from which I hope to see more music for many years to come.