By: Local SLC musical artists: Valerie Rose Sterrett and Annie McAllister
Cradling two microphones in her right hand as if she were holding a pair of birds, Chan Marshall, known as Cat Power, pours her powerfully enchanting voice into them, the audience staring into her shadow as if she were casting a spell. The atmosphere was very intimate as the audience swayed and nodded their heads in agreement with her music. You could see her fans feeling it, some smiling with their eyes looking up to her in awe, while others danced freely with eyes closed and arms gliding. The Union is a spacious venue, but it held what felt like a purposefully modest audience in chairs that reached a little more than halfway back into the space. Toward the middle of the concert, she waved for us to leave our chairs and come closer.
The room and stage were completely dark aside from the highlights of violet, electric blue and crimson casting a delicate glow on the outlines of her hair and face. No spotlights on Chan. This was expressed to be of grave importance to her when suddenly one of the lighting crew members lit up her face. She was visibly uncomfortable and asked them repeatedly to turn off the light. Marshall glared over at the lighting crew when they didn’t respond to her requests, and she shouted, “Turn the f**’ing light off!”
Marshall then engaged with the audience for a brief moment and said, “I wrote this song when I was twenty-five and….” she hesitates with a sigh, “look at me now.” This was sweetly ironic because of course, we couldn’t really see her. Physically, at least. She’s always been timid, a bit nervous and self-conscious about being seen while performing, but when the focus is on her music, she is immersed in her craft and beautifully present with her fans. From twenty-five to forty-seven, she and her music have gone through much recognizable growth and change, but her Cat Power soul is still very much the same.
It was difficult at times to make out which song she was playing because of the strong reverb. Marshall asked the sound technicians to turn down the vocal effects several times during the concert. She has her own thing down, one of her two mics has a delay on it, and the pair double her voice to create that unique “Cat Power” sound. But the engineers added even more reverb, making the sound a bit too mushy. Perhaps there wasn’t a clear enough conversation with the whole crew about the needs of the artist prior to the show, because that and the lighting mishap did leave a slight feeling of discord in the air. But it was nonetheless a magical show, and everyone pulled it together. Frustrated yet graceful, which feels fitting for Cat Power. Aside from her vocals, all of the instrumentation – drums, keys, and bass – were well-balanced and supported her beautifully. The bass was full and vibrant, the drums were light and not overpowering and the keyboard was experimental with some sprinkles of electronic sounds. I usually would expect a guitar in the mix, but I did not miss it at this concert. The musicians carried each other well.
The close of the night came with a more easily recognizable favorite amongst most Cat Power fans, “Cross Bones Style,” as they cheered and danced more intensely, mouthing the lyrics. It’s a strangely danceable and pensive song about gaining perspective and power from those who have lived through awful things. Hearing her play it live, there is such a cool feeling of contrast between the heaviness of the subject matter and the lightness of the tribal beat and her delivery. She has a special guttural quality in her voice that can express intense feeling while still being soft and whispery.
When the lights came on at the end of the show, Marshall hesitated, and then came back to the microphone. In a very sweet and apologetic tone, she remarked on the lighting mishap. She seemed to be understanding of the situation and said in a stutter, “It’s just… I know how I look.”
But she was gorgeous, and she brought down the house. Being in the shadows can help someone with stage fright feel so much more comfortable and free, without feeling like they’re being looked at while they just want to be heard. And there was something really special about that, about seeing her silhouette, her essence, so engrossed in her music. It gave the audience more focused attention on the feelings she was inspiring, rather than trying to take photos and videos. So whether or not it was a woman’s insecurity, which I think we can all relate to, or a creative philosophy, it really worked to her benefit, and ours. After recording a good portion of Wanderer, Marshall’s label wanted her to start over and make something comparable to another popular artist. Chan left that label, produced the album on her own, and released Wanderer on Domino Records. It’s not a groundbreaking album, but it’s true to her. It feels freeing and proud, and there are some serious gems, like “Black” and “You Get”. The Wanderer Tour has been a refreshing experience to witness here at The Union in Salt Lake City. I have been following her since the Myspace days when I first heard her and she is still making magic. This was my first live concert experience with Cat Power, and there’s no doubt she has an interesting stage presence, but it felt so genuine and full of heart. It was an honor to see her perform and get to know her a little better.