Gig review – Cat Power @ Enmore Theatre (2013)

After a painfully drawn-out guitar intro, Chan Marshall makes her way onto stage. Now sporting a spiky blonde haircut, she seems a frail figure and her off-mic coughing and constant interaction with the sound desk seem like nervous tics.

But the devotion of her fans is clear and from the rapturous applause the second she steps on stage, you can almost feel people willing her on, wanting her to succeed.

Having endured lengthy battles with debilitating illness and stage fright and developed a reputation as a reluctant performer, she has seemingly found a way to make it work now. She says very little but when she does talk it seems heartfelt and completely spontaneous.

Even with a five-piece band in tow, the sound is surprisingly sparse and the focus is firmly on her vocals. It is crucial then that her singing is just right, and thankfully they are – from the first moments of the first tune, standout torch song ‘The Greatest’, her voice is warm and richly textured, and it is clear she is in command of her hugely expressive instrument.

What follows isn’t a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set, but instead a subdued, sustained mood piece focusing heavily on most recent record Sun.

The lighting is often minimal, drowning the band in a single colour or cloaking them in almost complete darkness, complementing the long, slow grooves and stark renditions of what is already bare bones songcraft.

Seen in some quarters as an uncharacteristically upbeat record, the weariness and pervading sadness of Sun becomes even more clear in a live setting, where the downbeat nature of the likes of ‘Always On My Own’ is the norm and the glimpses of optimism in songs like ‘Ruin’ and ‘Human Being’ stand out for their dogged resilience.

This is music that follows no recognisable trends and feels completely out of time, more inspired by blues standards and soul balladry than anything contemporary.

The zen-like ‘Manhattan’ is one of her most wistful works, an unhurried reflection on the “The hotel above and the street below / People come and people go / All the friends that we used to know ain’t coming back.

Though it’s hard to pick and choose between songs in a set that seems more like one long piece than different components, the moving ‘Nothing But Time’, a sprawling, personal song apparently written for her ex’s young daughter, is hard not to single out.

There’s something of a nod to Australian music with a cover of The Boys Next Door’s ageless ‘Shivers’ and even sections of INXS’s enduring hit ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, before Marshall collects a bunch of flowers and throws them into the crowd, looking at her most relaxed and even joyful as people scramble for a memento from their hero.

An almost unrecognisable version of one of her very best songs, ‘I Don’t Blame You’, an affecting portrait of an artist struggling with the expectations of their audience, ends the set and it seems fitting there is no encore, the show having worked as one unbroken whole.

She seems reluctant to leave the stage, finally pausing at the exit to wave to everyone one last time. For someone who has long been known as a reticent performer, there’s something moving about her seeming to have found her niche and not wanting to let go of this rare connection with the audience.

The feeling, it seems, is well and truly mutual.  “I love you!” someone yells at one point, seemingly overcome by the moment. “I love you more” Marshall mumbles back.

Originally appeared in: Tone Deaf 

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