Cat Power pulls it together in Vancouver
At the Vogue Theatre on Friday, November 2
For all the wrong reasons, it was easily one of the most anticipated concerts of the year, to the point where the international press was watching. And right off the top, there were warning signs that things were going to go completely off the rails, starting with the fact that Cat Power was a good 45 minutes late taking the stage at a sold-out Vogue Theatre.
First, the back story. As has been documented everywhere from Billboard magazine to Brooklyn Vegan, Cat Power didn’t exactly have a banner week. On October 30, the artist also known as Chan Marshall took to Twitter to announce the following: “I MAY HAVE TO CANCEL MY EUROPEAN TOUR DUE TO BANKRUPTCY & MY HEALTH STRUGGLE WITH ANGIOEDEMA.” That she chose to relay this with the international sign of insanity that is ALL CAPS said plenty about her state of mind.
Random musings from that point forward have included the (lower-case) “All I wanna do is sing my damn songs & give my bes”, and the somewhat desperate/hopeful explanation “MY ANGIOEDEMA IS BROUGHT ON BY EXREME STRESS & LOW IMMUNE-IT ATTACKS MY LYMPHATIC SYSTEM. BUT I CAN DO THIS”.
On the morning of Cat Power’s Friday visit to Lotusland, for her triumphant new release Sun, it was like the dark clouds were rolling in again, to the point where even some great news had a downside. Hence, the Tweet: “TOP TEN BILLBOARD RECORD…. WHAT?????? WHO KNEW. NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD GET SICK.”
And what’s the point of relaying all of this? Well, if you’ve caught Cat Power in concert in the past, you know that “famously erratic” is something of an understatement. Add to the fact that Vancouver was the first show since all this drama starting unfolding, and you had a recipe for a good old-fashioned shit show. Which explains why the likes of Billboard were suggesting that fans pay close to attention to the concert.
If Marshall’s late arrival had folks on edge, the night’s first number—a fractured, black-hearted blues reworking of “The Greatest”—made a pretty good case that things were going to go south sooner rather than later. Things started off with a fan handing Cat Power a bouquet of flowers. Marshall—sporting a leather jacket, basic black clothes, a mohawk that was part Plasmatics and part Flock of Seagulls—responded by mumbling incoherently, making frantic gestures to the soundman about the monitor levels, and delivering a vocal performance that might charitably be described as out-there.
One song later, she celebrated getting through the thumping, techno-tinted “Cherokee” by promptly bolting from the stage, the good news being she was only fetching a guitar. Two numbers after that, she was gone again, the audience’s relief actually palpable when, after a half-minute of her ace backing band sitting in the dark, Marshall returned and launched into a beat-bombed “Manhattan”.But you know what? Proving that sometimes there is a God—or that perhaps Cat Power had her inner demons at bay on this night—the famously fragile singer managed to pull it all together from that point on. Apart from occasionally pointing at her throat, which seemed to be bothering her, or coughing in frustration with the mike pointed away, Marshall eventually settled into something resembling a groove.
The show looked amazing. In fact, it was hard to believe that this was the same Cat Power who, a decade ago, was fumbling through songs like “Colors and the Kids” at Richard’s on Richards, accompanying herself on nothing but acoustic guitar. A giant tilted picture frame sat against a floor-to-ceiling video backdrop that featured nonstop eye candy: rolling clouds, gas-fireball planets, striking travel-photo portraits, and, eventually, a towering LED gorilla. Just as effective was the lighting, which was all rotating, prison-break white spotlights one minute, and green laser beams the next.
Long-time fans no doubt were disappointed by the lack of older material; if you showed up hoping for your favourite Moon Pix song, you went home disappointed. On the plus side, it was hard to argue with the pacing of a show that was as oddly captivating as it was eventually outright enchanting. The occasional babbling shithead aside, you could almost hear a pin drop halfway through the night when Marshall rolled out the haunted-farmhouse Americana chiller “Bully”.
The night ended, almost hypnotically, with the one-two downtempo-electro-punch of “Peace and Love” and “Ruin”, during which Marshall spent as much time signing mid-song autographs and collecting mementoes from fans as she did singing. After a spirited arm-and-arm bow with her bandmates, she stood there beaming at the side of the stage for a good couple of minutes, waving to an audience that, on this night, was there for her from the start. If the relieved smile on her face said anything, it’s that maybe—just maybe—the kid is going to be alright.
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