To be incredibly reductive, Chan Marshall is infamous for her erratic stage personality. The will-call line for Cat Power was rife with anecdotes of cancellations and rambling banter hampering previous shows. The risk of attending one of her performances, however, is offset by the potential reward of seeing her phenomenal talents in the flesh. Last Wednesday at the Vic Theater vacillated between a revelatory musical performance and a teetering mess, and the dedicated crowd wouldn't have had it any other way.
The Memphis Rhythm Band took the stage and jumped into a couple instrumental versions of tunes from the latest Cat Power release, The Greatest (Matador). The twelve-piece backing band was as professional as they come, cueing changes with a nod and flick of the wrist. Their gestures indicated that they were expecting Marshall to come out any second, and the suspense of a possible stand-up was palpable. But after two numbers, the band dropped into the title track and Cat Power was announced to the crowd. Marshall traipsed out in stilettos and skinny jeans, the picture of every nerdy indie-rockers desire, only to call for a time-out, gesturing like a football referee while squatting low to the stage.
Once the false-starts were ironed out, Cat Power and the Memphis Rhythm Band jelled through "The Greatest," Marshall flexing and shadow boxing all the while. The first section of the set was dedicated to the new material, with songs like "Could We" hitting hard in horns and "The Moon" lilting over the mellow crowd. The band exited stage left, section by section, as Marshall cooed "Where Is My Love" in a breathy rasp. But as soon as the scaffolding that was the band of studio musicians was disassembled, Marshall's anxiety and her subsequent high jinks were revealed.
Songs were abandoned halfway or truncated at the climax, as was the case with "I Don't Blame You." "House Of The Rising Sun" featured an audience member's whooping cough, and Marshall couldn't help but ad-lib lyrics addressing his affliction. The banter portion of the program consumed a substantial portion of her solo-set, but her drifting through sections of songs made for an interesting glimpse into her process. Though some of her comedy was spotty, Marshall's impressions of her booking agent were downright hilarious. She lamented the inevitable call from her booking agent that would come the next day. "Chan, I got some bad reports," Marshall mimicked in a nasal tone, "I should've expected this from you."
The solo-set monologue ended when she feared her band was becoming bored. The Memphis Rhythm Band made their return with a song sung by the guitarist, followed by a mega-mix of Cat Power's hit-jams. The medley began with "Cross Bones Style" and went back in time to "Nude As The News." The full-blown band made these once spare songs sound almost Fleetwood Mac-esque.
"Satisfaction" was a crowd pleaser and the all too apt "Crazy" closed out the set with Marshall asking "Does that make me crazy?" and answering her own question with, "I don't give a shit." Neither do we, Chan. It's half the reason we came.
by Tom Smith (Office)