Friday, November 24th, 2006
(Still) The Greatest
“If I’m ever ambivalent about seeing Cat Power live again, it’ll only be because I don’t know how she could top this performance.” – me, on September 6, 2006, on whether or not I’d ever take the chance of seeing Cat Power live again.
When I wrote that, I really didn’t expect to have to make that decision again just two months later, but Ms Marshall was coming back to town – this time with the Memphis Rhythm Band – and I had to roll the dice again, and by the end of Wednesday night”s show, I was feeling like I should have been buying a lottery ticket. In addition to bringing the 10-piece band with her, she was booked into the much larger Phoenix ensuring that we wouldn’t be getting a repeat of intimate vibe of her September solo Lee’s Palace shows again, but as it turns out that was okay – in fact, comparisons to those performances were mostly inapplicable. While those sets saw a delicate singer-songwriter getting up-close and personal with her audience, this show opened and closed with a radiant Southern soul singer in full diva mode.
The band came out got into a deep instrumental groove for the first 10 minutes or so before finally breaking into the opening of “The Greatest”, Cat Power strolling onstage to huge applause. Hearing the songs from The Greatest played with the full band, as rich and gorgeous as they were meant to be, was pretty special. Mostly free from playing guitar for the first portion of the show, Marshall moved through a variety of interesting and singularly Cat-like dance moves while singing, obviously having a wonderful time being up there. And how good was her band? Guitarist Teeny Hodges, who was so visibly under the influence of something that he needed a roadie to help him get his guitar on and who ill-advisedly tried to make “Where Is My Love” a duet with Chan still managed to get up to the mic and lead the band through a number without missing a note while Marshall departed momentarily. Now that’s a pro.
They then cleared the stage while Marshall returned for the solo folksinger portion of the show, working her way through some older material solo on piano or guitar, very much the way she did in September. And while she had kept it together quite impressively to this point, she did become agitated about the sound onstage and aborted one song as a result despite it sounding fantastic out in the room. She would matter-of-factly explain that her nerves were on account of it being almost her time of the month and her inability to get action while on tour (at which point you could hear a thousand people resisting the urge to offer to help her out with that). Thankfully, that was the extent of her neuroses getting the better of her and the remainder of the solo set was wonderful though not as great as the Lee’s show (though I may just be saying that because I was there and maybe you weren’t).
The Memphis Rhythm Band then rejoined her for one hell of a finale – whereas they’d been a super-tight soul band before, they were now rocking out (though soulfully). Possibly the highlight of the night was their version of “Cross Bones Style”, which was simply revelatory. I hope that a good recording of that from this tour shows up soon. They followed this with the chorus-less arrangement of “Satisfaction”, a take on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” which was far superior to the original in my estimation and a scorching “Love & Communication” to close things out. The Rhythm Band took their bows and left the stage, leaving Chan to play a couple more songs alone on piano before she too bid the adoring audience a prolonged goodbye.
Say what you will about Cat Power, but I can’t think of another performer that is as guileless and emotionally sincere onstage as her – when she talks to her fans, it’s not rehearsed banter, she’s actually trying to have a conversation with everyone there and when she’s up there and smiling, you know she means it. The affection between her and her musicians was also very tangible, their relationship seeming more akin to family than just singer and band. It’s enormously cliche to say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but watching Cat Power perform, knowing what she’s been through, you really have no choice but to agree. If you’d told in January that I would not only see Cat Power live twice before 2006 was over but that both shows would rank very highly in the best I’d see this year, I’d have surely thought you loco. But indeed, here we are and I am indeed saying that. Likewise, I came into this year only a casual fan and I leave a wholly won-over devotee.
And everyone should read this Spin interview with Chan – she talks in-depth about her breakdown and recovery, her fears of playing live, making The Greatest and her future plans – look for another covers record out next Summer, a new album already entitled The Sun in 2008 and for her to anchor “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live next Fall. Yes, she still seems to be on that. Commercial Appeal and The News & Observer also cover similar ground. And don’t forget that her Monday night show from DC is available to stream at NPR.
Photos: Cat Power & The Memphis Rhythm Band @ The Phoenix – November 22, 2006
MP3: Cat Power – “The Greatest”
Video: Cat Power – “Living Proof” (YouTube)
Video: Cat Power – “Lived In Bars” (YouTube)
MySpace: Cat Power