Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues

Music breaks boundaries, and sometimes, perpetuates them.

Case and point: Cat Power (or Chan Marshall) played 9:30 Club Tuesday with the same smooth, faultless vocal rasp that first earned her the attention of indie power label Matador Records more than 10 years ago. But a listener’s willingness to get past Marshall’s performance wall proved an inevitable test of patience.

Soulful and gently bluesy, as a performer Marshall is a slow ride home – always visceral and contemplative, but wrought with apparent disconnect and a realized distance.

In other words, there are few ladies in indie rock with as incendiary a sound and as respected a quality as Marshall, but on stage, she is in a world of her own- leaving listeners in a similar state. Be it in her subtle, profuse apologia (“Sorry”) over any self-projected shortcoming or even her move to sit behind an amp for a moment while singing, Marshall perpetuated her self-aware, self-reflexive, at times nearly self-conscious aloneness.

“My throat’s a little banged up from bangin’ on it,” she teased with the audience, noting a perceived vocal failing in her softer volume.

Performing for the D.C.-based Dam! Festival with Dirty Delta Blues, Marshall’s voice never relented: its soft grate enveloped in steady piano lines and weighty percussion, at times achieving the breadth and meditation of a gospel choir, and something likely to continue on her pending 2008 release, “The Jukebox.”

The crowd of pensive 20-somethings was tame, aside from the occasional empty attempt to engage Marshall (“I love you, Chan!”.) Those in attendance did, however, clap in recognition of Marshall’s title track “The Greatest,” which came roughly in the middle of an approximate hour-and-40-minute set. Additionally, Marshall’s “The Moon,” paid lyrical heed to her own distance.

“Moon is not only beautiful/It is so far away,” she smoothed out of her smoked-up-sounding lungs. Marshall constantly thanked the audience for coming out- and rewarding them with a relic from “The Covers Record” in “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Listeners gawked, facing forward. People at the bar talked amongst one another, only half-aware of the music. The crowd was quiet: individuals were pensive, but not collectively as listeners. For this reason, Marshall is, essentially, the ultimate jazz act. She’s almost present.

“From Atlanta, Georgia, perhaps the greatest soul singer in the world,” (as Marshall was aptly introduced) is inspiring, soulful and tensely reflective- yet be it dancing on stage or sitting by an amp, she’s doing so beautifully, and alone.

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