I had heard that Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, is a notoriously stage-frightened and tortured performer, so when a back-up singer of the Memphis Rhythm Band announced, "Ladies & Gentlemen, Cat Powerrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!" I expected a reluctant and sheepish girl to come cowering to the microphone, fumbling with her hands, bangs over her face, head pointed downward.
Boy, had my informants misled me. [Really, they hadn’t. I have discovered that Cat Power is just recently sober and has taken on a new, happy and lively stage persona.] The girl got down. She danced. She laughed. She hugged and kissed her bandmates. She waved giddily at fans. She pantomimed every lyric. For most of the show, she was downright goofy.
The show kicked off with "The Greatest," the title track off of her latest album, on which she teamed up with several rhythm and blues bastions to give her sultry and solemn songwriting a bed of lush violins, percussion, bass, organ and horns. Cigarette in hand, and taking drags between verses, Marshall let flow her strikingly smoky vocals effortlessly. During the instrumental segments, she took the opportunity to loosen up her melancholy lyrics with a chicken dance across the stage.
Crowd enthralled, Marshall and the band glided beautifully through most of The Greatest, lush, vibrant and lively throughout. Marshall remained center-stage, back-lit with red bulbs, incessantly waving her arms, swinging her hips and strutting around on stage.
Following the contemplative "Lived in Bars," she picked up her guitar for "Willie" and proceeded to take off her modest button-up shirt to reveal a black scoop neck body suit underneath. Asking the concert goers if they liked her hair extensions, Marshall claimed the locks were "Asian," following with her best Yoko Ono impression. A little odd, perhaps, but needless to say, the audience was charmingly wrapped around her little finger.
Light-hearted moments aside, Marshall did settle down to pensiveness for a few numbers during which the Rhythm Band left her alone on stage to retreat into herself and the piano. She performed the sparse piano number "Where Is My Love?" along with Nina Simone’s powerful "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" and the lone You Are Free selection, "I Don’t Blame You."
Closing out the show, the band returned and kicked it up to high-energy level for Teenie Hodges’ "Since You Been Gone," as well as old Cat Power numbers "Cross Bones Style" (from Moon Pix) and "Naked, If I Want To" (from The Covers Record).
A particular highlight came at show’s end, when Marshall covered Gnarls Barkley’s hit summer jam, "Crazy." Masterfully, she took the biggest pop song of the year and transformed it into a sparse and introspective number. Standing alone on stage, she stripped the song to its vocals only, bringing out the lyrical poignancy that gets glossed over in the Gnarls radio hit:
Even your emotions had an echo in so much space/ Who do you, who do you think you are/ Bless your soul, you think you’re really in control.
The band eventually came in to carry the song through, but still left the lyrics to dominate - truly an unexpected and delightful cover from the unexpectedly happy new Chan Marshall.