Cat Power At The Theater At Ace Hotel, Wednesday November 21st 2018
‘Have you seen Cat Power before?’ asked me the nice couple sitting next to me. ‘Oh yes, many times!’ I was trying to remember how many times I had seen her, and it was difficult to count. I surely had seen her at least 5 times, or more, starting in the early ‘00s, maybe even before that era, It’s a long love story, like the one she has had with Nick Cave apparently? She opened for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as early as 2008, and I saw her at the Greek theater last year doing a very low-key set, just before the fury of the Bad Seeds, and here she was, headlining her own show at the Theater at Ace Hotel,… with Nick Cave sitting 2 rows in front of me, watching her like anyone else in the beautiful 1920s venue. As an unconditional fan, I went to him to say hello, and since I was serendipitously wearing a Nick Cave shirt, it was a too-good coincidence to miss the opportunity, which turned to be a very lovely moment with a truly gracious man.
But let’s go back to Cat Power, who became my main center of attraction when she took the stage, despite this constant Nick Cave distraction, an artist becoming an attentive listener, watching another artist behind his glasses. She was wearing a long black dress, not unlike the ones that Susie Cave creates, and looked more confident on stage as she had ever been, although she soon asked for the lights to be turned down, and continued to sing in semi-obscurity. Beside ample movements with her arms, the theatricality and stage antics were very limited, and the entire show looked like a very Cat Power thing, showcasing her unmistakable voice over the beautiful arrangements of her discreet band.
I should mention that Arsun (Sorrenti), a very young songwriter, opened the show with confident vocals, deeper than Kurt Vile’s own, and a series of romantic songs of his own. His acoustic set was channeling New York’s 60s Greenwich Village with a maturity beyond his young age (he is only 19), as he obviously could have brought up a young Dylan in mind, with an early Beck haircut, while covering a Velvet Underground song (he did ‘New Age’). With a genuine simplicity, he was indulging in the slow and melancholic with a few higher notes and youthful emotions.
Watching Cat Power in concert is a series of surprises, she has a new album to promote but doesn’t overdo it, that’s the least you can say, and if we got ‘Horizon’, ‘Robbin Hood’, ‘Woman’ (the song she sings with Lana Del Rey), ‘Me Voy’ and the title track of ‘Wanderer’, the rest truly wanders around her career and others’, with many covers and even a medley mixing Nick Cave, a soul song of the ’60s, and Sinead in one long number. It’s even difficult to recognize the songs because Chan always transcends them with her unique way of breathing and phrasing as if the words would become more meaningful when she vocalizes their syllables with her smoky croon.
All set-long the tone was dreamy and luminous, she launched the show with a fragile and slowly sprawling ‘He Turns Down’ from her ‘Moon Pix’ album, and didn’t do much talking between the songs. But there was no need for that, the crowd was in ecstasy mode from the start: it was obviously a love story, a quiet one, and a true one. I could barely recognize the melody and the lyrics of Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’, which immediately blended into ‘Dark End of the Street’ and something from Sinead (O’ Conor ?) before ‘Horizon’ from her new album.
The crowd visibly was familiar with the new ones, like the very stripped down ‘Robbin Hood’, welcomed with loud cheering and sang with a gut-wrenching tone and a sparse thump, who was rhythmically hitting like a fatal ending. The first verse of Nico/Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’ did announce ‘Song to Bobby’, her ode to Bob Dylan, and at this point, it was as if she could not sing her own compositions before wrapping them with others’ famous songs, like a protective blanket, or a warm homage. Cat Power has so much love to give, to everyone, that she wants to cover it all, in a reasonable amount of time.
‘Woman’ sounded great, even without Lana, and after another cover (Dead Man’s Bones ‘ ‘Pa Pa Power’ ) ‘Me Voy’ exploded in an epic and cinematic poignancy with a Latin flavor, followed by her sincere lament about the state of current America (‘In Your Face’), with looping keys and guitars building a melancholic ballad they may have stretched a bit longer than the original.
Of course the presence of Nick Cave made even more sense with a cover of Dirty Three (‘Great Waves’), a song she sang on the album of the Australian band featuring Warren Ellis, and with ‘Shivers’, a cover of The Boys Next Door, a band which would become The Birthday Party. She did it very sweetly and slowly, adopting the same tone than everything she sang that night, sometimes moving away from the mic as if she would never recover.
And between pure-classic Cat Power songs ‘Metal Heart’, ‘Cross Bones Style’ and ‘Good Woman’, she introduced one more cover, the languid Lana Del Rey’s ‘White Mustang’, but her album ‘Sun’ was not forgotten with the slow burn of the shining krautrock-y ballad ‘Manhattan’.
Wanderer’ was attacked very slowly with beating drums, and if the evening could feel a bit sad at the end, the closing song did not uplift the mood, as ‘The Moon’ has to be the saddest one of ‘The Greatest’. She performed it while taking some long detour, looping around the lyrics in an extended version where words are just melting like long hurt sounds. And then she spoke, probably for the only time of the evening, thanking us profusely…‘Thank you for accepting me on my path, and please take care of yourself’. She insisted on this last part, with an almost weary voice but this was the ultimate message of love that Chan Marshall intends to send at every one of her shows.
He Turns Down (Moon Pix)
Into My Arms (Nick Cave) / Dark End of the Street (James Carr) / Dont/Sinead/Horizon (Wanderer)
Robbin Hood (Wanderer)
These Days (Nico/ Jackson Browne)/ Song to Bobby
Pa Pa Power (Dead Man’s Bones cover)
Me Voy (Wanderer)
In Your Face (Wanderer)
Great Waves (Dirty Three cover)
Metal Heart (Moon Pix)
White Mustang (Lana Del Rey cover)
Cross Bones Style (Moon Pix)
Shivers (The Boys Next Door cover)
Good Woman (You Are Free)
The Moon (The Greatest)