New York, New York. The first track off Cat Power's latest covers album Jukebox was also the first song that led off Chan Marshall's steely performance at Terminal 5 last night. Before we get any further, it's gotta be stated that Terminal 5 is not exactly the most intimate of venues, with its dance club pedigree. Mammoth steel columns and vertical mezzanines lend to its overall cavernous architecture, and it's been a notoriously mediocre venue for good sound since its opening last year. The financial decision to place a Cat Power show there (it's the largest of the Bowery Presents venues) served its purpose in having the place sell out. Was it worth it? Marshall's voice is a tricky enough instrument to blend into the soundstage even in an optimal setting. Many in the back of the floor could not even hear the vocals. Sadly, she suffered throughout the set, not only with the acoustics, but with technical issues as well, as her microphone constantly kept feeding back and her monitor seemingly unable to get a good mix. There were moments where she did not seem very happy. Years ago, she would have melted down and left the stage with no intention of returning. A lot has changed with Chan Marshall. Nowadays she has more resilience than ever, and so on Wednesday night, despite the sound issues, she strapped in and delivered a set full of old classics, new favorites and unique covers.
Marshall led her new Delta Blues Band through several numbers off Jukebox. "Ramblin (Wo)Man", "Silver Stallion", "Lost Someone", and "Woman Left Lonely" all made appearances. "Metal Heart", an enduring track off the psych-folky Moon Pix got an update on Jukebox, and she went with the current version live. Hearing her strut "Metal Heart," it was curious to listen to how not only her voice, but how her whole attack has changed since Moon Pix ten(!) years ago. Yes, there's more force of will, but there's also more patience within parts of songs, knowing when and where to position emphasis. Some of it comes from years of living with songs, in her head, on the road. And some of it I suspect comes from the honing of Marshall's own matchless ability to find something personal in every space. B.B. King once said of his guitar playing, "It's not what you play, it's what you don't play," referring to the silent spaces in between licks. Lately it looks like Marshall is more at ease than ever with the songs and her voice unfolding at their own pace. Still, her greatest talent lies in her phrasing--it's truly unlike any other singer amongst her peers. Which is why it's always been great to listen to her covers, as they become something completely different from the original, something solely hers (or as Mick Jagger once cheekily sung, "It's the singer...not the song").
Halfway through the set, she changed outfits, shedding the uptown pants suit for a loose-cut blue FRANCE tee (hitting all the demographics). She did a heartfelt rendition of Moby Grape's "Naked If I Want To," off the great covers record from 2000. Tracks from her "Now I'm sober" album The Greatest drew the most cheers, as she performed "Where Is My Love" and "The Greatest," before closing the set with an extended "Willie". She returned with the band minutes later and promptly instructed the stage crew to lift the house lights up and keep them up ("Can we do it like this the rest of the way?"). They did a jovial "Lived In Bars" before ending the night with Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long."
It wasn't so long ago that Chan Marshall couldn't sit through an entire performance without getting emotionally torn and frayed. The stage fright, performance miscues and general calamities were all well documented. Then came the period of toxins and depression. Then the comeback with the new haircut and renewed confidence (read: sex appeal). In her growth from meek ingenue to bombshell diva, she finally became her namesake, but I can't help but feel some folk heroism was lost along the way. On Wednesday night, she commanded Terminal 5, but she never once strapped on a guitar. When Karl Lagerfeld befriended Marshall last year and made all his Chanel models look like her, that was kinda weird, no? Marshall fully embraced it though, even going as far as a 'CHANel' reference. It was full-on Cinderella at the ball. She looked like she was having a blast hanging with the fashion elite, but you could tell she knew that world wasn't for her. As the show died down on Wednesday night, Chan took her time leaving the stage, ripping the set-lists off the floor and handing them to fans in the front row. Clutching an armful of flowers, she beamed like a mighty Aphrodite.
Photos by Gabriel Kuo. Click here for more.