A Cat Power concert is always a special event. People are not mistaken. Since the mid-nineties, the singer from the south of the United States has been performing her inspired songs, sometimes indie-folk, sometimes soulful ballads, in a stage set-up that gives power to emotions that are sometimes deeply buried in the soul of this rare and precious singer. Chan Marshall and her band was in Lausanne last week. Here’s a review of the show with short videoclips added.
Cat Power starts her show with « Say », a beautiful song, re-orchestrated into a pearl of sound floating in the air of these air-conditionned Docks, theater of dreams, in an atmosphere that reminds me of a David Lynch movie (see revie about Low‘s gig at the Docks). Time is suspended and the beauty of the moment is unreal, the fear of the phone lights going out, the breaths are soft. You could hear a little bird sing. Cat Power takes us on a journey with a selection of mini medleys of her folk hits, gems of handcrafted composition, something Chan Marshall has always enjoyed. Her ability to translate emotions into simple, purely heady melodies stays the same.
Covers of his bravura songs alternate with a selection of songs, « (I Can’t Get no) Satisfaction » hardly recognisable from the first notes, the song is deconstructed, re-arranged, Cat Power style, favouring the dark side of this song that has been deviated from a thousand times for commercial reasons (remember the commercial spot of a chocolate bar). It’s as if Mick Jagger’s lyrics and Keith Jaggers’ composition were washed down with holy water. But also songs covered by contemporary artists like The Pogues and Lana Del Rey that you could have sworn were written especially for Cat Power: ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ and ‘White Mustang’. The latter has that little surprise effect, as the tone of the Californian singer’s song is the same, with Chan Marshall’s voice adding the extra depth and warmth of the Lausanne live performance.
In a Cat Power concert, you are in a comfort zone. Chan Marshall delivers a touching performance every time, pushing her voice into the two SM58 microphones with different settings, allowing for spatial play, grains that travel across the spectrum, on the « low » side, the brassy side of her tone comes out stronger. Her cover of Frank Ocean’s « Bad Religion » rings true, giving this poignant text a special quality. « Taxi driver, be a shrink for an hour, keep the meter on… » An exploration within these universal torments that everybody goes through, the questioning of oneself, the desire to talk to a stranger, to talk to an unknown God even if you do not believe in any God, the desire to believe in the first (bad) religion that comes along when you really need to come out clean of a messy situation.
The power of Cat Power’s music is that it grabs you from the first notes. There is no warm-up, no foreplay. You are immediately in the mood. As a rock journalist, I don’t remember Chan Marshall penetrating my soul to this extent before. I remember one of her concerts in a much too large venue at the Grand Rex – Paris in 2006. Les Docks is not the same, with a capacity of about 800-1000 people, it is perfectly adapted to receive the vibrations, to feel the band (I recognize Erik Paparazzi and Alianna Kabala who have been following her for several years, not sure about the third member), you can feel the complicity, you can feel their ability to transcend pure songs among which I will gladly take three of them, Metal Heart, the medley CrossBones Style/Nude as the News and Manhattan.
One used to detect doubts and suffering in Cat Power. She seems to be free of the weight of her years of struggle with depression, certain addictions, problems that affect her psyche. Music has always supported her. And Chan Marshall has always respected the craft in return. Albums (eleven in total), two devoted to reinterpreting the work of others in concept-LP about covers. And the men, they are there. Lots of men. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, Frank Ocean, as we said… but also Bob Seger, Johnny Mathis or the Australians of Dirty Three (a trio led by Nick Cave’s colleague, Warren Ellis) for whom Chan made a remarkable collaboration. All of them appear in the credits of this « Hollywood production » of discretion and class, a style that is highly refined since the immense « The Greatest ».
And among the men stands Paul Westerberg of the Replacements with his song « Here Comes the Regular » about lost love, the loneliness of those long summer days stranded in front of a bar, trying to find a meaning to life. We understand that it is about surviving of alcoholism and the difficulties of life. A soothed Cat Power that sends love. The people of Lausanne does it too with words barely shouted between songs. Chan Marshall is no longer alone. Her discography has touched millions of people and it is relatively awkward that she hasn’t reached the level of popularity of a Björk or an Alicia Keys. Somehow we are selfishly grateful to her, it allows us to see her regularly in a beautiful venue like the Docks.