Posted by: TomA | 30 November 2006

Cat Power at The Commodore, Vancouver

Last night Becky and I went to see Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) at the Commodore, having been wanting to see her for several years. It was a strange gig, disappointing at points yet strangely satisfying in others.

The problem I feel came from the point in her career at which we saw her. All her old albums have this beautiful vulnerability and bareness to them, emotionally and musically, which until recently was coupled with somewhat unhinged live performances. The new album is very different and I don’t think I like it (apart from the single The Greatest). It sounds very middle of the road, full of over the top arrangements without the elements of danger or excitement…

… and onto the gig. She was supported by the Memphis Rhythm Band, who were very accomplished musicians but (especially in their own songs) were lacking any kind of inspiration. Very reminiscent of a 10 piece house band or a bad rhythm and blues (in the original sense) collective on a Jools Holland show. There was the obligatory Lloyd Webber-esque pianist, old and bearded guitarists, the bespectacled and polo-necked bassist, and my favourite, a very bored looking saxophonist. When they played with Cat Power, they tended to overwhelm her songs in pompous arrangements, too full of soulful backing singers and harpsichord solos.

This was all summed up in the moment her band played her a bloody Christmas song as a goodbye (it was their last gig on the tour with her). It isn’t even December. Cringe.

Yet the moments she was allowed space away from the band were fantastic. Her songs rely on having silence and emptiness, allowing the power and frailty of her voice to come forward. It wasn’t all assured – there were sneaks of how I imagine her old gigs to have been:- the nervous fiddling with her trouser button and flies (though leaving them open perhaps wasn’t required….), the breaking down into tears on more than one occasion, the songs she physically couldn’t finish singing, the bewilderment at the end in not knowing what to do or where to go – very much rabbit in headlight moments. And it’s those moments, not the assured trumpet solos, that really make a gig memorable.

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