Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Cat Power and the Dirty Delta Blues :: 02.08.08 :: Starlight Ballroom :: Philadelphia, PA
Chan Marshall's songwriting abilities are so rich and inviting that it's surprising to find her lingering in the covers album arena and not pushing more original material. The Jukebox tour stop in Philly revealed a version of Cat Power quite different from what we saw a decade ago with the Moon Pix release. The concert at the Starlight Ballroom injected Chan Marshall's timeless and deeply personal mojo into Jukebox's (read the album review here) carefully selected covers. The evening became an androgynous, soulful representation of some of the brightest soul and blues singers of our time. Marshall's renditions of Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Janis Joplin, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Patsy Cline worked to her advantage, as her daring translations of these legendary artist's songs are perhaps her strongest move to date.
Marshall passed instrumental duties to The Dirty Delta Blues band, opting to focus on her vocals. Most of the songs fell far from the previously meager arrangements as The Dirty Delta Blues band produced ample, more traditional instrumentals. The new sound was tipped in a particularly soulful direction thanks to a lineup including Philadelphia's own Gregg Foreman from the Delta 72, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Judah Bauer, Dirty Three's Jim White and Erik Paparozzi. They pushed aside the Sufjan Stevens singer-songwriter genre and opted for a more powerful blues-rock approach much like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
With a microphone, her signature gloves and some newfound shreds of melancholic poise, Marshall propelled her voice out over the crowd. During "Don't Explain," she slunk across the stage, prowling for the best vantage point with an increasingly bold demeanor. The underlying woeful blues of the heartbroken jazz standard lumbered along nobly. Marshall's smoldering vocals left little to the imagination as she tossed herself wholly into the act.
|Cat Power :: 02.08 :: Philly|
Marshall's strengths were characterized by a raw intimacy that turned gender on its head. In a Calamity Jane showing of defiance, she scratched her ass and hiked up her black jeans repeatedly. Marshall wasn't about to let sex or femininity get in her way as she dripped pure rock & roll on the stage. It's amazing how many comparisons you could make to Chan Marshall. Her resemblance to Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders (circa 1980) was simply eerie. During her devilish overhaul of Sinatra's "New York, New York" we listened as she sang, "Start spreading the news," as her voice flowed like syrup over the words. This was "New York" as you had never heard it before. While others have merely copied the original, Marshall and the Dirty Delta Blues turned the classic into a rhythmic mover. Foreman's hand work on the Hammond organ completely sold the song as he ran away with one of the funkiest solos of the night. With her hypnotically raw, achingly personal approach to "Woman Left Lonely," Marshall more resembled Patti Smith than Janis Joplin as she let the song sizzle into a slow burn.
Other standout numbers such as "Lord Help the Poor & Needy" and "She's Got You" were given strong roots and blues nuances as Marshall spun tightly wound tales with her rich voice. Despite her staggering voice and interpretive skills, Marshall never formed a strong connection with the audience. She slid in and out of the shadows after posing for a sea of digital screens itching to steal a piece of her soul. Although her absurdly bewitching voice was no less powerful, the shadows never fully revealed the emotions of her face.
The crowd, hot and uncomfortable, attempted to show excitement, but ended up just staring ahead with glazed eyes and zombie-like expressions. They seemed so unconnected. Even Marshall's soulful cries of redemption during Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" couldn't arouse much more than courteous claps. Perhaps Cat Power's new sound caught the crowd off guard. No one seemed to want to shake it as the band's rich sound turned the ballroom into a juke joint.
It will be interesting to see where Marshall goes next. She's healthy, vibrant, her voice is stronger than ever and it's obvious she has the right band in place, but in the future can her own pen do what she does so eloquently with other's songs?
Cat Power - Live at the Starlight Ballroom
JamBase | Philly
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