Words by: Andrew Bruss
Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues :: 07.08.07 :: Avalon :: Boston, MA
Cat Power & the Dirty Delta Blues romped their way through Boston's Avalon Ballroom, performing a short-but-sweet set that offered a good taste of the new, and most certainly improved, Cat Power.
Fans haven't always witnessed Cat Power in the fine form she displayed in Boston. Prior to her most recent stint with the Dirty Delta Blues, Cat Power (born Charlyn "Chan" Marie Marshall) hit the road with the Memphis Rhythm Band, who lent their licks to her 2006 masterpiece, The Greatest. Before her time with the Memphis Rhythm Band, Marshall's primary venue of productivity was in the psych ward at Miami's Mount Sinai Medical Center.
America's favorite girl-next-door-with-emotional-baggage was notorious for unprofessional stage antics that some fans actually cited as being part of her draw. Marshall would put on an amazing show one night, and the next, walk off after a five-minute set. She was even known to repeatedly start and stop a song when she felt the tune wasn't being performed well enough. When push came to shove, her stage fright, history of clinical depression and a severe struggle with alcoholism finally took its toll. In early 2006, she canceled a North American tour to enter an in-patient psychiatric treatment program.
Armed with a new sober lifestyle, fans of the indie-neo-soul singer were quickly seeing a very different Cat Power. Shows were starting on time, and the performances were confident, professional and critically acclaimed. Given the buzz that had been circulating in the press regarding the "transformation of Chan Marshall," the audience at the Avalon wasn't sure which Cat Power to expect. Were we going to see a boozed-out Chan Marshall pull one of her infamous shit-shows or were we going to see a transformed professional? Within moments of taking the stage, the confidence Marshall projected made it abundantly clear that we were all in for a heartfelt night with Cat Power 2.0.
Starting things off with "The Greatest," Marshall paced back and forth as she geared up to get down to business. As she strutted around, what shone the brightest was the duality in her stage presence. Marshall emitted a Mick Jagger-esque sense of cockiness that was balanced by a Fiona Apple-ish emotional vulnerability. The end result was a confident front woman whose ever-present sense of fragility created a preternatural tension in her performance.
As she strayed away from the Greatest-era material into more obscure tunes her backup band followed her every move. When she notched up the energy level her band followed suit, and when she took things down on the somber tunes, the Dirty Delta Blues created a mellow mood that fit the moment perfectly.
A major highlight was an unreleased tune called "Life of the Party," which showed off Marshall's bandleader skills as well as spotlighting her singing. She gradually built up the momentum of each verse before conducting the band through a climatic chorus that instantly brought the musical energy from one to ten, only to have the cycle repeat.
Marshall brought the night to a close with a version of "Willie" that left things on a high note. The chorus of "Have you seen her" may have meant one thing when it was written but in the current phase of Marshall's career one couldn't help but feel the lyrics were an invitation to check out the new and improved Cat Power.
The set clocked in at just under an hour with no encore, but few in the crowd seemed disappointed. Sure, a few extra tunes might have made things just a little bit sweeter but the joy of seeing an established performer grow into what speculators have long believed was capable of trumped any petty complaints. This night offered a fresh look at a Chan Marshall who doesn't allow anything to hold her back.
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