Monday, July 13, 2009
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Better Than: Seeing Chan Marshall break down.
In the '90s, there was a lo-fi revival that positioned itself against what it saw as the pseudo-sensitivity of commercially-successful alternative rock in bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. At the forefront was Stephen Malkmus, the witty, sensitive Pavement vocalist and guitarist. And in what seemed to be part of one side of that ultimate battle in vulnerable masculinity and expressive feeling, Kurt Cobain ended his long fight with depression.
Cat Power, the alter-ego of Chan Marshall, is a part of that lo-fi tradition. Her contemplative, honest, and minimalist approach may betray a punk quality, but it's hushed. And unlike some of her predecessors, she doesn't seem to have anything to prove. The battle is with herself. As anyone who's witnessed some of her turbulent emotional breakdowns on stage knows, she is unquestionably authentic, sometimes painfully so.
Monday night, Marshall appeared to be high spirits. Dressed in her typical long-sleeved, collared shirt with a loose tie and donning her usual pony tail, she interacted with the audience and smiled a lot. For the most part, though, the show was underwhelming. Her haunting vocals carried the audience through "Song to Bobby," a number that presents her own brand of Americana and obvious admiration for Dylan. "The Moon" sounded sublime, the piano barely holding together the intimate, dreamy haze that Marshall so effortlessly produces on that song. Her cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" was also a highlight as she showed her knack for making the bands she covers disappear behind her tormented vocals. Stretching ever so gently for the chorus, she sang, "It ain't me. It ain't me..." Her band, the Dirty Delta Blues, rocked it proper on the piano and guitar, interestingly surpassing her in the energy department. Somehow, though, the marriage of soft tortured vocals with the semi-adrenaline-fueled rendition of the '60s anthem worked famously.
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The show wasn't horrible. I've never actually seen a bad Cat Power show, though I've heard stories. But I have seen much better from her. Her really great shows are emotive, a bit cathartic, and leave you feeling like you've just stretched your soul to the moon and back. Monday's show, unfortunately, just fell a little flat.
Personal Bias: I didn't take The Greatest out of my CD player for a month when I first bought it.
By The Way: Marshall heads to Buenos Aires Thursday.