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10 Jun 2006: Town Hall New York
Watch a cat when it enters a room for the first time. ime.
It searches and smells about, it is not quiet for a moment,
it trusts nothing until it has examined and made acquaintance with everything.
—Jean Jacques Rousseau
A man only meets a few women in his entire life who, mere moments after introductions, have the power to completely and utterly ruin him. The woman is simply out of his league—too smart, too beautiful, and too cunning to tolerate his indecisiveness. Her confidence radiates effortlessly, and her scorecard is a perfect composite of humility and grace—a controlled balance of strength and tenderness.
The imprudent man attempts to impress her, while the heedful male does his best to appear undaunted and assume a supporting role. Most may think we would prefer to keep a 300-foot distance from such a woman, but, in actuality, it is these women that men most welcome—if only for our utter befuddlement. This is the type of woman I have long suspected Ms. Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) to be.
The Memphis Rhythm Band flexes their muscles for a couple of minutes before starting into the title track from Marshall’s latest LP, The Greatest. When she makes her entrance, Marshall saunters into the spotlight barefoot, her smile lighting up the dimly-lit stage. A sorrowful piano accompanies her entrance as violins and cello provide beautiful accompaniment. Dressed in black, form-fitting clothes, a long gold medallion hangs from her neck. Her brown bangs hide doe eyes as she circles around her microphone, patiently choosing her cue.
When Marshall opens her mouth to sing, “once, I wanted to be the greatest,” the room is still, entranced by the hypnotic allure of her voice. She appears sheepish in her admission but remains lighthearted throughout the course of the remorseful confession, hamming it up by dancing Mia Wallace a la Pulp Fiction-style and flexing her arms for the crowd. She strolls around the stage sinuously with the talent of a diva and the playfulness of a pixie.
I had always assumed that Marshall’s gritty, crackling purr was the result of studio production, but this is true talent on full display. She doesn’t sing as much as whisper, and she controls her voice as naturally as the shifting shoulders of an ocean wave. Her words float over the crowd as the enunciations of her lyrics make her live performance all the more poignant.
In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence. it mad, the cat walks with confidence.
Despite her reputation for being a temperamental performer, it is clear that Marshall is in a good place personally. And she’s also at a good place physically. New York’s famed Town Hall may be the perfect setting for tonight’s performance. The crowd is a mixture of ages and genders. They are respectfully silent during the quiet ballads and warm and agreeable when asked to participate. The audience seems pleased to see their favorite siren in such good spirits, and there are chuckles when she impersonates Johnny Cash or imagines what men would look like in dresses. The crowd responds with the same unabashed encouragement one shows a precocious niece who likes to sing at holiday dinners.
After a quick costume change, Marshall’s mood is strikingly different. She returns to the stage in a white dress, her hair up in a ponytail. No longer hiding behind her backing band, she looks young and vibrant. Cats have nine lives, and it appears Cat Power may have several personalities. Her body language is infinitely more relaxed when she is not facing her crowd, and she seems more focused on her reflective material.
Most of the material this evening is pulled from the last record, but Marshall, always a fan of performing covers, treats the audience to her take on The Animals’ “In the House of the Rising Sun”. Her seductive ode to the celestial gods—“The Moon”—is also exceptional. Rejoined by the band, “Love & Communication” reaches a fiery crescendo, the string section clashing with a rippling bass line until both are ready to burst. It is during this song that Marshall utilizes her famed backing band to its full potential, combining their swagger with her confidence, as she asks, “Can you tell if there is something better/ cuz you know there always is.”
This is a woman who has gone through too much to settle for anything. But that doesn’t mean you should pity her, because these days she is the one calling the shots: “Hated to see you sad when I left/ There’s just no good in that but the good part was/ That I came at all cuz I don’t venture out/ Into the lives of the new.”
A word to the wise, fellas: when a woman like Chan Marshall hands you the cards and asks you to deal, that doesn’t mean you’ve got an edge. It means only that she has pocket aces. Just be happy you have a seat at the table.
Cat Power - The Greatest