Hot Press headed to vicar street for Cat Power's spell-binding performance
Chan Marshall’s reputation for eccentricity is hardly undeserved but it is unfortunate that it has come to overshadow one of the most fascinating and melodramatic careers in American alternative music.
She can, it is true, seem overwrought and a little unmoored on stage (veteran fans will shudder as they recall the Dublin concert where she spent the entire set demanding honey for her throat). But those car-crash years are long behind her and at Vicar Street the Atlanta singer otherwise known as Cat Power put in a beguiling shift, her voice at once polished yet burnished with pain, her songs blossoming in the stripped-down, semi-acoustic setting.
Marshall’s life in music is a story of unexpected success and violent reversals. She became an indie heroine with 2003’s You Are Free, before reinventing herself – and chasing away many long-time devotees – with her 2006 covers record The Greatest.
That album, which featured a record label-bankrupting line-up of classic soul musicians, was intended to usher in a new phase, both professionally and personally for Marshall.
Instead, it plunged her off a cliff and, in between stints modelling for Karl Lagerfeld, she suffered an emotional breakdown and had a public break-up with her boyfriend, actor Giovanni Ribisi (who married Agnyess Deyn within weeks of the split).
All of which was rich material on which to draw through this spell-binding 90 minutes. Marshall played alone, switching between guitar and piano. The set was obscure with a vengeance with only 'I Don’t Blame You' – her howl of empathy for Kurt Cobain from You Are Free – qualifying as a “crowd pleaser”. It didn’t matter as her singing pulsated with a dark magic, the effect heightened by her bare-boned musicianship.
“We’re not getting any younger, none of us,” said the 45 year old towards the end. “Let’s make the most of all this while we can.” She was true to her word throughout a performance that restored your belief in music’s ability to chronicle unimaginable heartache and to suggest that even the deepest wounds heal in the end.
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