Cat Power is, quite possibly, indie’s most infamous performer. Any fan knows just how far her reputation precedes her. Blame it on the alcohol; blame it on her sensitivity; it has been such a shame to hear indie’s finest female singer-songwriter struggle to perform.
Fans love to recall their Cat Power story. It seems everyone has one. She has often quit songs halfway through, time after time during a single show. She has even played through whole sets without finishing a single one. What’s worse is to see her breakdown, crying, apologizing, shying from the spotlight. But, the most memorable stories are even worse. After playing a partial set, she once ran off stage, never to return. She’s mooned her audience, and during one show, she ignored the crowd altogether, speaking with a squirrel for fifteen minutes.
But in recent months, Cat Power has announced a new life of sobriety. Monday night, I stepped into the 9:30 Club, anxious to see what this would mean. Would we see the old Cat Power, problematic, and, frankly, embarrassing? Or would a new Cat Power, restrained and professional, emerge?
At 7:20, The Memphis Rhythm Band warmed up the crowd and introduced the band. Cat Power then stepped on stage, taking a bow, as the band kicked off with opening chords of “The Greatest.”
With every lyric she sang, it seemed she had a choreographed hand motion to go along. It was exactly the kind of dancing you’d expect from a fourteen year-old girl with a hairbrush mic, but accompanied by a song as fun as “The Greatest,” it came off as endearing. Flexing both biceps, she sang, “Once I wanted to be the greatest.” She was obviously enjoying herself, and, coming from her, that was a welcomed sight.
However, playing charades isn’t always appropriate. You wouldn’t play the game amongst serious company, and, likewise, it felt out of place during serious songs. She continued to dance like this through “Lived In Bars,” a song about fighting alcoholism, totally confusing the mood. It almost seemed she overcompensated in confidence, causing her to mismatch her physical expression with her emotional cues and vocals.
Now Cat Power’s voice has always been wispy. That’s been its real beauty. Her voice invites itself into your ear like a whisper, at once becoming intimate. But, with The Memphis Rhythm Band behind her, her vocals were drowned. Only on slow-tempoed songs could her voice resonate as it should.
But the performance would improve throughout the set. She turned “Where Is My Love” into a sweet duet, raising her lighter, blowing out the flame at the close of the song. She then stepped off stage, allowing The Memphis Rhythm Band to play an upbeat, hand-clapping song. They stepped off, and Cat Power returned to an empty stage.
She sat at her piano and played the sentimental “I Don’t Blame You.” Alone on stage, Cat Power performed at her best. Swinging her head around the mic, she composed herself, an inspiring performance. Her emotive performance was even self-affecting, moving her to admit, “I’m getting all emotional. I don’t like it.”
When the band returned, she calmed her dancing. They performed The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” transforming them both into songs of her own, even making “Crazy” feel new, really a true feat.
Only her last song hinted truly at the past. While covering the ever-famous “Hit The Road, Jack,” she slipped up half-way through and quit, declaring, “Man, I suck, huh?” The crowd encouraged her, but Cat Power only bowed, kneeled, and left the stage.
While she wasn’t perfect, Cat Power showed definite improvement. Her work may be polished on record-it’s some of the best, most soulful music written these days-but there is still room for Cat Power to refine her live performance.