Cat Power

Monday, Sep. 16, 2019

Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro

Though I raptly watched Chan Marshall perform for an hour and a half on Monday night, I don’t think I ever saw her face.

The drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist ranged around Marshall were clearly visible, but the colored lights bathing the stage never seemed to touch her features. She was a penumbra, all deliberate movements and understated arm poses, the light reaching the edges of her black butterfly sleeves and stopping there. 

It was as if the singer, songwriter, and song interpreter known as Cat Power were generating her own localized darkness. From it emanated a voice like an oracle beckoning you into a cave, a vision that seized me quickly and never let go.

Marshall’s band was loose and cavernous, and she sang like someone feeling her way down into a slippery, echoing crevasse, each measured step finding the next uncertain foothold in the dark. The sparse, deconstructed arrangements focused on high-contrast drum accents, whispering keys, eerily tranquil bass, and a guitar that would suddenly break out like sunlight through a crack in subterranean stone. Though you couldn’t see the bottom of this space, you could feel that it was bottomless, and trusted Marshall to guide you through it. This was all apt of a seasoned performer whose music, though it has brightened in some phases (particularly on The Greatest), hums with nocturnal mystery and introspection.

Marshall’s set drew much from her past two albums, The Greatest and Wanderer—there was “Me Voy” and “Horizon,” a sea-shanty-like “Robbin Hood” and a hypnotically swinging “Hate”—but she also tapped into her legacy as a song interpreter, which stretches from her simple cover of Tom Waits’s “Yesterday Is Here” on her 1995 debut album to her more elaborate recent forays into the likes of Rihanna’s “Stay.” We didn’t get to hear that elegant variation, though there was a shadowy “Into My Arms” (by Nick Cave) and a serpentine “These Days” (by Nico). Marshall also surveyed some of her collaborations, including “Woman” (originally with Lana Del Rey) and “Great Waves,” which she nudged out of Dirty Three’s more ramshackle idiom and into her own sheerer, starker one.

If you came for the more intimate, naturalistic side of Cat Power, it might have felt remote behind the dark-hued electric sound palette, the effects on Marshall’s voice (though they can be difficult to distinguish from her own supernatural reverb), and the commanding distance of her contemporary presence—a far cry from her less adorned, more immediate early work. But I found that distance drew me in and held me in the enveloped state I prize, and I felt awed by how doggedly Marshall, over the twenty-five years of her career, has remade an image of vulnerability into one of magnetic power.