I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to see the amazing Chan Marshall in concert. I guess I'm always weary because of some of the horror stories about her performances. But last night she played a solo show at Hiro Lounge in New York City and proved to me that she is perhaps one of the best and most important songwriters/performers in music today. Even her flaws last night seemed like perfectly planned spurts of awkwardness that only further enhanced the credibility of her songs.
Chan came out to a packed Hiro Lounge and immediately asked if everyone wanted to sit down so we could all see. You don't say "no" to Chan Marshall, so we all sat down so we were all able to watch the striking singer perform. She immediately started playing a simple blues riff on her guitar that she would later explain that she played when she was happy. She sang a few songs on guitar including a cover of "House Of The Rising Sun" and "Good Woman." Her voice was absolutely flawless and sounds considerably better live because you can see her amazing facial features while she's trying to get her own instrument to sound perfect.
The concert seemed more like a space for Chan to practice than to perform. She stopped songs in the middle to talk. She stopped songs early and did a lot of giggling and joking around. She told the audience to "never fall in love" and kept swiveling around on her piano bench to make an embarrassing squeaking sound. But it couldn't have happened any other way. Playing a full concert in which she would have started a song, finished a song, and so on, wouldn't have seemed appropriate. She's a complex songwriter so it only makes sense that she's a complex performer. She doesn't know how to stick to convention. She even waved and said goodbye into the mic for everyone to hear when Chris Lombardi, the president of Matador Records, got up to walk up the stairs.
The highlights of the show were many. She performed many covers including songs by The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Gnarls Barkley, and The Everly Brothers to name a few. It was her a cappella renditions of Hank Williams' "Window Shopping" and her performance of "I Don't Blame You" into "Living Proof" that were the defining moments of the show for me. Some people play covers that end up being the highlights of the show because simply put, the song they're covering is a better song than they've ever written. But Cat Power's songs are just as beautiful and complex and dense as any of the classic songs she covers. She also sang the first few verses of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" because as she put it... "ATL."
I cannot imagine that many people can match Chan Marshall's character, voice, songwriting skills, personality, guitar playing, piano playing, and stage presence. She was absolutely fantastic last night and made me believe as I said before, that she is one of the most important songwriters around. Her albums, if they aren't already, will be classics and she herself will become a legend like the musicians she looks up to.