Cat Power with Memphis Rhythm Band
Vic Theatre; Chicago, IL
Cat Power's reputation certainly
precedes her. Though I'd never seen her live before this night, countless
tales of her extreme shyness and frequent onstage meltdowns definitely left me
intrigued to witness the disaster that was supposed to be her stage show. I
was almost disappointed to learn that in the past year, the formerly fragile
chanteuse seemed to gain some confidence and energy on stage, or perhaps
finally get the right medication. After canceling her tour last spring due to
the always ambiguous "health concerns," my curiosity only grew. Finally, her
Chicago date was rescheduled and I got my chance to assess Chan Marshall's
mental state for myself.
After a late start, the Memphis Rhythm Band's eight-plus members made their
way out to play a couple of jazzy numbers on their own before they launched
into the intro to "The Greatest" and Chan emerged in jeans, a button down
shirt, and the most ridiculous pair of five-inch heels I've ever seen. "They
were a gift from a friend of my in France," she later told us. "He got them
for free. He didn't want them- he's a small queen. He doesn't wear heels."
Barely into the song, she started looking flustered and tapping the monitors
before making a big "T" with her hands and forcing the band to quit so the
sound guys could fix whatever monitor situation was bothering her. What, a
meltdown so soon? I thought. But the band merely took it in stride, starting
the song over again once Chan was satisfied, and she enthusiastically took to
the mike to showcase her incredible voice. From then on Chan and the band
ripped through the majority of The Greatest while she paraded around on
stage, taking her shoes on and off, buttoning and unbuttoning her shirt,
completely incapable of standing still or keeping her arms at her side. Even
with the slowest numbers, like "The Moon," she still danced around with her
hands waving around out of time. It was as if as long as she kept moving,
she'd be fine.
As Chan closed out the final notes to "Where Is My Love," the band slowly left
the stage one by one, leaving Chan alone on stage to kick off Cat Power, Part
II- the Solo Show. Without the burden of a band to rein her in, Chan took full
liberty in letting her quirks show. Moving back and forth between the piano
and guitar, she traipsed her way through pieces of her back catalog for at
least an hour, playing songs at half-speed, stopping mid-tune to adjust her
seat, frustratingly cutting songs off halfway through only to launch into
another one. At one point she told us she was going to sing a new song about
"a city that wasn't Chicago," but some form distraction led her to a
five-minute monologue about the city, Arrested Development (and a
pretty good Gob imitation), her shoes, and the saying "what's up chicken butt"
before finally getting back to the music after audience members started
yelling out song requests. It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized
she never even played the song she was introducing! But even if hardly anyone
in the audience got to hear a full rendition of any of their favorite older
songs, no one seemed to care--the audience seemed to love everything that came
out of her mouth. I guess when all you have to live up to is crying and
back-turning, it doesn't take much to excite long-time Cat Power fans. Low
expectations are the key to success.
The Memphis Rhythm Band returned to the stage after Cat Power's solo
ruminations to begin Cat Power, Part III- The Covers Portion. After letting
the band do their own thing for a song that sounded like a blues version of
Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone," Cat Power rejoined the stage to do
a number of high-energy covers, including The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction"
and every band's favorite cover song of the moment, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
Again, with the band behind her, Chan limited her ramblings and
idiosyncrasies, letting the music once again come to the forefront and showing
that Chan really can be a great performer when she wants to be. As "Crazy"
came to an end, Chan had several of the members stand up with her for a final
bow. While the band slowly filed off the stage, Chan wandered around the stage
and lingered by the mike, seemingly unable to leave. It seemed ironic how a
woman who has spent so many years trying to get off the stage now didn't seem
to be able to leave it. I left the show with mixed feelings; Chan's voice is
amazing and it's definitely fun seeing her enjoy herself on stage (especially
in the form of her Mick Jagger impersonation), but at the point when her
antics take precedence to the music, it becomes too much. When you're getting
lost in the delicate piano chords of "I Don't Blame You" and she suddenly
drops everything to run over to her guitar, it leaves a little to be desired.
Photo: Nicole Chavas