Cat Power At The Echo, Wednesday November 13th 2019
Cat Power has always been a peculiar performer and when I saw her in plain daylight last year, I could see all her facial expressions while she was pacing around the stage through her favorite medleys. But last night at the Echo, a very small venue for her which sold out as soon as the tickets went on sale, she was a dark blue silhouette moving like a ghost.
During the 90 minutes of the show, I didn’t see her face once, and barely caught a glimpse of it when she decided to finish her song ‘Unhate’ in the middle of the crowd. All cameras were prohibited, a frustrating proposition for photographers, but the ambiance was so dark anyway, cameras would have almost been useless.
Chan Marshall is indeed a very idiosyncratic performer, who never performs her songs the way you are expecting, who blends a cover into another cover or even sings another song during one of her own tunes. If you like artists who play an entire album in order without even changing a note, she is certainly not for you, she is a free spirit, flying around her magical forest of songs, picking one here and there, wrapping herself in complete darkness, and surrounded by the spirits of her best friends and heroes, Nick, Nico, Sinead, Bob,… you know who they are.
Opener Zsela made a big impression with her somber voice and great allure. Her set was as stripped down as you could imagine, while she was singing her soulful folksy songs with dark vocals. She was alone on stage, standing on her impressive high-heel black boots, and was interpreting her moody breezy songs had slight touches of R&B, jazz, and pop, a bit like a new Sade. With sparse notes, muffled beats and slowly moving songs, the set showcased her voice, elastic and precise, while this sexy ambiance ended with a cover of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’.
Cat Power entered the stage burning an incense stick and moving around as if she was doing some strange ritual, nothing unusual here, I have seen her do that before. Soon the delicate and melancholic melody of her song ‘He Turns Down’ was started by her band featuring Erik Paparazzi on keys, Adeline Jasso on guitars, and Alianna Kalaba on drums, and her smoky voice soared and shone above the guitar loops and glitter keys. She barely stopped before a chameleon medley which engulfed many songs without sounding like anything I knew. Nick/Dark/Don’t/Sinead on the setlist was, in fact, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ ‘Into My Arms’, James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’, her own ‘I Don’t Blame You’ and Sinead O’Connor’s ‘I Am Stretched on Your Grave’ but I first didn’t recognize anything at all. Chan Marshall is not an easy performer to follow, she flies way ahead of your thoughts and doesn’t do anything conventionally, but she likes to crowd her heroes together in the same song, like this next medley featuring Nico’s ‘These Days’ and her ode to Dylan, ‘Song to Bobby’.
Her new album ‘Wanderer’ soon arrived with the melancholic keyboard ballad ‘Horizon’, the more intimate ‘Robin Hood’ and its slow foot-tapping cadence sounding like a gentle ride with sleigh bells, or the incredible ‘Me Voy’ and its Spanish poignancy,… at this moment her voice transformed the lyrics of the songs into incomprehensible and emotive sounds.
She began to play around her two mics during ‘In Your Face’, switching from one to the other, slightly deforming her special voice, then using both of them at the same time, to make a layered echo. ‘In Your Face’ sounded like the song of the album but once again she lost me with other lyrics, tumbling into some unfamiliar world… ‘That was a Frank Ocean song’ she simply said when she is done.
‘Great Waves’, a cover of Dirty Three (Warren Ellis’ instrumental rock band) was cavernous, her cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘White Mustang’ was far less sleepy than the original, while ‘Metal Heart’ didn’t sound at all as I remember. At this point, I let myself transported by the flow, I recognized ‘Manhattan’ but once again she had transformed the song into something quite different, leaning toward a frenetic soulful number.
‘Unhate’ was actually her song ‘Hate’, rewritten, but this time more musically than lyrically, as the addition of rock guitars injected the song with a very different vibe, and this was the moment that Chan chose to go in the crowd while apologizing with a profusion of ‘Sorry’.
One of my favorites, ‘The Greatest’ had once again different arragements, with Chan’s voice pacing the song differently, while the last tune. was a cover of The Boys Next Door before they were called the Birthday Party
‘Every time it’s different but it’s the same’, she said at one point of the show, and this could be her mantra,… her show had a strange disorienting quality, blending everything at once, blurring the frontiers between the songs, fooling us with new arrangements, new lyrics, probably reworking the songs each night. It seems that Cat Power will be forever wandering around her songs and others’
He Turns Down
Nico/Song to Bobby
In Your Face
Cross Bones Style