What makes artists so revered is their willingness to honestly expose every contortion of their state of mind. The fragility they present is admired because, in a world that idolizes power, a seemingly sensitive persona is highly discouraged. For Chan Marshall, better known by her stage name, Cat Power, the honesty of the heart is a theme and belief that resonates throughout her career — and was fully visible Thursday night at The State Theatre.
Sun, Marshall’s ninth studio album, was released in early September. The album is an outlier from her other works, which were sung softly with a bluesy soul. Marshall hasn’t completely abandoned the blues, but the majority of Sun is drowned by techno/rock and beats that make you want to simply dance around. I set myself out to search for whatever called for this slight change in genre last week.
Willis Earl Beal opened the night with a few songs or what he called “prayers.” “Sometimes, you just gotta sing for yourself,” Beal said. On a dimly lit stage stood the soul of a very old Howlin’ Wolf in the body of a young man. At times, I would forget that Beal had no instrumental accompaniments because his vibrant voice filled the entire theater. While singing “Take Me Away,” Beal seesawed on a chair one minute and, the next, rolled himself up in a blanket with a small hole to put his mic through — a great eye-opener to hype the night up for Cat Power.
However, whatever hype Beal brought for Marshall died down during the two-hour wait for her. It wasn’t until an hour and a half later that a band member realized the necessity to inform the audience that Marshall was delayed. Really? We had no idea. With all due respect, Marshall should know better than most of the uneasiness that being “stood-up” can bring. Doesn’t she sing about it for a living? If the audience was sober enough to realize how long they had waited, I would have found myself in Cat mayhem.
As soon as I got up to leave, a blonde and mohawked Marshall tiptoed onto stage, catching most people by surprise. “Cherokee,” the opener, was a good representation of what was to come throughout the night. Throughout the song, she stood up and back down repeatedly to burn incense beside her on stage. And as the song came to a close, she stopped singing and the band tried to fill in the awkward, no-vocal gap with a fitting instrumental conclusion — an oddity that happened quite frequently with many of her songs. She later said something along the lines of: “I just came back from the hospital and something’s been affecting my nervous system, my lymphatic system and all my systems. Which is why my brain at the moment can’t remember what song I’m singing.” The audience laughed inexplicably.
“The hotel above and the street below / People come and people go / All the friends we used to know / Ain’t coming back,” sings Marshall in “Manhattan.” In the past, her songs were either inspired by the thrill of a feeling, whether of depression or the excitement of love or of memories. But now, hope soars high above Marshall. The past decade’s been tough on Marshall, including a recent hospital stay in September, according to Yahoo! News, and a break-up this past summer. This time, however, she’s managed to somehow have her unrefined and bitter attitudes translated purely into her own music medium, singing songs of learnedness and maturity.
However, Marshall sang some old tunes that were reminiscent of where she used to be. “Angelitos Negros,” a Spanish song originally sung by Roberta Flack, brought a darker aura upon The State Theatre. Her reluctance to sing her old songs can be understood. But another level of respect can be had when a singer willingly decides to dig down and show us some of her old scars.
Before her last song of the night, Marshall told the audience, “It means a lot to be here tonight. I’ve been a fuck up I know.” She thanked the audience for coming and continued by singing, “Bitching, complaining when some people who ain’t got shit to eat / Bitching, moaning, so many people you know that they got,” while throwing carnations into the air.
Whether she was singing to her past self or encouraging us to stop “bitching,” Marshall has begun to lift herself out of a slump she was in for many years. In many ways, this album and tour can be seen as her means of rehabilitation. The concert was by no means cohesive, which is expected by her infamous track record with concerts anyhow. Marshall would, at many times, stop to pull her pants up, curl up into a ball while singing and belt intensely toward an empty wall. Her performance seemingly required very little effort yet still managed to be perfect for some reason.
Artists can either push themselves to the furthest of their abilities or accept the boundaries to which they are confined to. Initially, it was difficult for me to comprehend my night at The State Theatre. The numerous disruptions, pauses, strange movements and improvised parts to make up for Marshall’s mistakes would have normally drawn me to call that night “one of the worst.” But for Cat Power, I believe that the oddity of the night was necessary for me to visualize the transition Marshall sings about. A transition is never a smooth ride, and the concert encapsulated the roughness of rehabilitation and the mystery that is Cat Power.