Saturday night at the State Theatre, Cat Power’s band began the show with slow guitar strums and keyboard chords synced in an entrancing rhythm, like a call to prayer. After a few beats, the legendary singer-songwriter (born Chan Marshall) floated onstage to join her band. Marshall began her 1998 song “He Turns Down,” whisper-singing in that ethereal, classic Cat Power way. She wore a black velvet dress and held a single stick of burning incense, in a manner that seemed all at once to cleanse the space and transform Marshall into the conductor of her own performance. The show that followed was joyful, strange and completely unique.
This tour is in honor of her 2018 album Wanderer, her first in six years and 10th under the Cat Power moniker. The opening band was ARSUN, an experimental folk rock band led by 20-year-old New York City native Arsun Sorrenti, son of prolific fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti. At first, I was skeptical of a band i-D claimed to be “resurrecting vintage rock,” but after seeing their performance, I am convinced. Sorrenti has a voice that evokes Lou Reed, or Crash Test Dummies’ Brad Roberts. It’s a startlingly deep and delightful drone. His warm stage presence and sense of humor complemented the band’s slew of moody songs, which included a Velvet Underground cover. Sorrenti’s earnestness in telling the crowd how to spell his band’s name (“A-R-S-U-N,”) was endearing, and their performance felt like something from a dream. I got the sense that they genuinely loved having the chance to open for an icon like Cat Power, and were grateful to the audience for being there to see them play.
From the very beginning of Cat Power’s own set, deep red lighting bathed the stage and obscured Marshall’s face. The audience — a mix of Gen Xers, professors, locals and the occasional pocket of students — seemed to wait with baited breath for the big reveal, some climactic song and a brightening of the lights. The lights never came up, and Marshall spent the show eluding the spotlight as she glided across the stage. As unorthodox as this tech decision was, it seemed intentional, perhaps meant to shift the audience’s focus away from Marshall herself and towards the sheer wonder of her voice. Whatever the motivation, it worked, and the audience seemed completely under Marshall’s spell. We stood when she asked, moved when she offered spots in the front and swayed along with her mood.
One of the show’s best moments was when Marshall paid homage to Nico, melding Nico’s version of “These Days” with Marshall’s song, “Song to Bobby.” Marshall sang: “I’ve been out walking / Don’t do too much talking these days / These days, / These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do / Please don’t confront me with my failures / I have not forgotten them.” The song then rolled seamlessly into “Song to Bobby,” Marshall’s conversational ode to her youthful infatuation with and love for Bob Dylan.
Ultimately, for an artist who may be most well known for her sad, soulful songs, this stop on the Wanderer tour didn’t feel too sad. It felt real and fun, if a bit messy, but still wholeheartedly enchanting. Marshall’s performance was cinematic, and she frequently messed with audience expectations for well-known songs, changing up the octave or the pace. But that keep-you-on-your toes quality is exactly why one goes to see Cat Power live; she’s human and that means going off script a bit. A few of her parting words to the audience: “Please take care of yourself… shit gets fucked up.” That statement, as well as her entire set, spoke a truth that seemed to reverberate throughout the theatre. We knew to listen to her, and that she was right: shit does get fucked up sometimes. Nowadays, shit feels more and more fucked up everyday. Luckily, though, we can take some small comfort in the knowledge that Cat Power will always be there to guide us back to a place of musical refuge.
Anna Grace Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].