Theredsunband are doing their thing as we arrive at @Newtown—surely someone must have realised how redundant the @ would be when they named the damn place—and if “Icy Indie Queen” weren’t such a dreadful cliché, you can bet I’d be using it right now. Slow paced gloom-rock, replete with Hope Sandoval-style tambourine shaking and occasional keyboard poking. If that’s your thing, then theredsunband are exactly what you’re looking for.
Cat Power is a different proposition altogether. You either buy into the whole philosophy of the show, or you just don’t. Almost despite myself, I fall for it, at least as far as my sense of entitlement allows. Half of me is saying, “but people paid to see this,” while the other (much cooler and infinitely more pretentious) half sneers, “Fuck the business shit, this girl is bringing back the art.” The line we’re sold to justify all this is “fragile artiste struggling against her overwhelming stage-fright to bring her music to the world,” but I suspect alcohol and a keen sense of drama might also factor into the equation.
Songs are left half-finished, or half-started. Every now and then, when the Chan Marshall gets sick of what she’s doing, she launches into the Pink Panther theme on the piano. The woman behind the bandname appears to be more than a little tipsy, staggering from piano stool to guitar, catching her hair in the mic stand as she goes. Her backing band (quietly introduced as Matt and Will) look plain confused as Marshall strums a few bluesy licks, then strums them again, and again, only then launching into a beautiful rendition of “Good Woman”.
Which is the secret to this whole ragged affair. Despite the sense of chaos and her scattered demeanour, Chan is more than capable of achingly transcendent moments. During “Good Woman” her husky voice thins considerably as it stretches to the higher notes but still manages to take you over the top and into that wrenching place inhabited by its recorded sibling.
Similarly, the stark piano and vocal arrangement on songs like “Maybe Not” serve well, leaving space for Chan’s voice to take full effect. At this point things were still going reasonably well, considering that half the audience only came to see if she’d finish more than a few songs before breaking down. Perhaps that’s a little cruel, but the last time Cat Power was in town there was a fiasco, and most of these punters knew it.
Things were going reasonably well, that is, until some drunken fool yells out into one of the many pregnant pauses of this evening, “Play more old stuff. Like ‘Free’!”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that only a few songs back she had done her reconstructed cover of “Satisfaction”, which predates You Are Free by several years. You could feel most of the crowd inwardly shudder, dreading the effect this would have on the rest of the performance. And sure enough, the next song was aborted mid-flight.
“I’m too paranoid to play my new stuff now.”
“We love the new stuff!” Some more supportive soul shouts, desperate to coddle the performer into continuing. But the next song doesn’t quite make it all the way either, and Marshall almost throws her guitar down to go and sit at the piano, where she launches into “I Don’t Blame You”, her meditation on a performer’s (Kurt Cobain?) tenuous relationship with his audience.
Was she saying something here? Was this a pointed reference? Suffice to say that the song was taken almost to completion, providing what seemed to me the most poignant and personal moment of the whole performance. A few bars before the end, Chan turns to the audience and slowly waves goodbye. An awkward bow, a few more waves, then she turns and scratches her back. Another message? Or just a boozy performer with an itchy back?
We sit around in the dark, waiting to see if we will be denied an encore. The lights are still down and the audience is puzzled. A roadie comes onto the stage, squints into the recesses of the control booth, and shrugs his shoulders. Twenty or so minutes pass by as people begin to leave in a trickle that grows to a flood, leaving only the die-hard to pray that she might just be waiting for all the bastards to leave before delighting the true fans with an intimate finale. By the time the DJ started spinning, you could feel the disappointment seething through their usually disaffected, indie-cool gaze.
And you just knew they were loving it.