If there's only one thing to expect before walking into the venue before a Cat Power gig is that anything can happen. That could mean literally anything from walking out due to poor sound or a meltdown, but last night, the only thing worth talking about was her set.
Last year saw Chan Marshall release Sun, her first album of new material in six years, with the record peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard 200, the highest of her career thus far. While that was fine and dandy, things couldn't have gone any worse in her personal life. Her ex-boyfriend of five years, actor Giovanni Ribisi broke up with her only to marry a supermodel. If that weren't enough, she had to cancel her European tour due to a battle with angioedema, which for you non-science people is a condition where swelling happens on certain body parts. I'm no scientist so take me at my word, it sucks. Compound that with her declaring bankruptcy, I dare you to find someone who was looking forward to 2013 more than Cat Power.
From the moment she walked on-stage, the singer had the crowd's undivided attention. Rocking short blonde hair and an all black ensemble, Marshall could do no wrong to her adoring fans and was in good spirits for most of the night. Maybe it was because she was celebrating her 41st birthday, which fans serenaded her with "Happy Birthday" after "Cherokee," or perhaps she was happy to be playing her first show of the year, but either way, she seemed to enjoy the moment.
The brooding vocals flowing from her pipes were spot-on, though at one point she claimed she needed some honey to help coat them. While she was mostly quiet in between songs, Marshall let her songs do the talking. Though some tunes were different than their original arrangement, knowing what we do about the singer, it wouldn't be surprising if she took the Bob Dylan route of reimagining the music as she deemed fit.
That's what makes Marshall a true artist. I hesitate to call musicians artists because the first term generally will sum up what they do. But not her. When she starts to sing, it's almost as if she immerses herself into literally every word she sings, putting meaning, feeling and emotion into it like it's going to be her last. On songs like 2006's "The Greatest," and newer songs like "Bully," it's impossible to not feel what she's saying and the way she moves along to what she's saying shows the seriousness of which puts into craft and how a live show is just another means for her to communicate and express herself.
A cover of "Angelitos Negros" was haunting while other songs like "3, 6, 9" and "Peace and Love" sounded as good as you could possibly imagine. Ending the night after 16 songs and 80 minutes, Marshall passed out an assortment of flowers towards the end of "Ruin" and actually stayed a bit after the song ended to shake hands, pass out more flowers and distribute some set lists to her fans. Maybe 2012 was a bit rough, okay it absolutely sucked, for Chan Marshall, but if last night is an indication of what's to come then just maybe she'll be able to capitalize on the increased attention her music has been getting. After last year, she'll take it.
Critical Bias: Cat Power could read the phone book and make it scary, yet awesome. That's why she rules.
The Crowd: A lot more dudes than expected, and a lot quieter and more attentive than anything I've ever seen at The Observatory
Random Notebook Dump: She easily has the best intro music. Anyone who comes out to Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm" is a winner in my eyes.