We saw Cat Power last night. I hadn’t seen her since the late 90s, in part because she doesn’t tour that often and in part because I had seen a couple of shows way back when that confirmed her reputation for delivering “uncomfortable” live experiences.
I know, for some people, that’s the allure of her show. But, not for me. I love her records, starting with “What Would the Community Think” and ignoring “Jukebox.” For somebody that I almost avoid seeing live, I listen to a lot of Cat Power.
So, we went last night, not because I was dying to see her, but because we had a sitter and she was playing at a theater where the sound is immaculate and we could sit and the press seemed to promise a meltdown-free affair.
I guess, then, that this is my review of the first Cat Power show I’ve seen in thirteen years. Frankly, I don’t know where to begin. There are so many layers to peel. I could start with Chan’s hair, which now is officially a stark white boy cut, eerily similar to a haircut once sported by Agyness Deyn, the model who ended up marrying Chan’s ex right before the new album came out. Or I could start with the sheer thunder of her band, that included the drums way up front and sometime two drummers. Right now, the band sounds like early New Order — jittery, huge, catchy and sad. Or I could start with her nervous, but sweet dialogue with the audience. Or I could rave on about her Spaghetti Western turned operatic cover of Angelos Negros. Or I could talk about the (few) uneven moments where she seemed to be filling the setlist with new songs just because they were new and that’s what you do when you’re supporting a new record.
I could probably write a small novel about any one of those things (OK, maybe not the throwaways). Instead, I’ll just simply say that her opening take on The Greatest (this video is the best I could find and does it NO justice) was so unexpected and so mesmerizing that I’d rank it among the best seven minutes of music I’ve ever experienced live. I’ve certainly seen better concerts. In smaller rooms. Shows that became legendary in my own mind. I’m not sure this was one of those shows. I’m not a kid any more. And live music doesn’t feel as desperately new as it once did. But this song did. Chan was like a gospel singer fronting Black Heart Procession playing as a Joy Division cover band. She stripped the song down to almost nothing and, beat up voice and all, went searching for Aretha or Otis. I have no idea if Chan is religious. I sort of assume she is not. But, from this song alone, I know she believes in something as much as I believe in anything.