By Shain Shapiro

Cat Power :: 11.03.06 :: The Paradiso :: Amsterdam, NL

Chan Marshall - Cat Power
Cat Power's headlining showcase at Amsterdam's Paradiso was a baffling ordeal, but not baffling in any pejorative sense - actually quite the opposite. Each song, twist, twirl and rambunctious supportive melody elicited myriad sensation, a cavalcade of sorts from both sides of the emotively spectral equator, be it jubilance, loneliness, mournfulness or humor. How to explain all this, this spuriously beautiful mess, however, is a challenge. Anyone who has never been to the Paradiso, a converted Church that spits out sacrilege is at a disadvantage, while ones unfamiliar with either Cat Power or the Memphis Rhythm Band has an even steeper mountain to climb, and to be honest, I am so caught up in interpreting this joyously sorrowful experience that I do not recommend myself as the guide. My mind is still racing through each melody, sweaty piano lick and raspy rhyme, so I have not yet been able to separate the experience from the analysis - an almost cardinal sin in the world of critique. Having said that, here goes.

Chan Marshall - Cat Power
The Memphis Rhythm Band was already halfway through a southern-tinged soul treat when I made it to the near-sold-out Paradiso, washing the audience in a lathering sludge of string arrangements, horn interplay, slide guitar and booming drum work. This band is monstrous; a ten-piece by my count, something I cannot clarify, unfortunately, because everyone in Holland is a foot taller than I am. The setup included a cellist, viola and violin at one side, trumpet and tenor sax at the other, along with two backing vocalists, an organist, a rhythm section and a slide guitarist. Chan Marshall, or Cat Power as her moniker states, emerged after a lengthy instrumental jam, humbled by the stature of the building and the sold-out contingent inside. The venue is gorgeous, featuring stained-glass windows above the stage, ringed by two circular balconies and a wide orchestra pit, proving perfect for Cat Power and even more perfect for the Memphis Rhythm Band.

Focusing mostly on songs off her superlatively titled collection The Greatest, Cat Power wound her sensual, whispery voice around cleverly arranged back-up work from the band, creating a unique equilibrium between Marshall's inherent fragility and the band's explosive power. After opening with "Living Proof," the rest of The Greatest followed, including fan-favorites "Where is My Love," "Empty Shell," "Lived in Bars," and "Islands," but her back-catalogue only received attention in the encore, which I will come to later.

Chan Marshall - Cat Power
At times, the show was excruciatingly romantic, and at other times, it was sloppy. There were moments when Marshall could easily have attached a set of stirrups to her plaintive jeans and assumed the role of Loretta Lynn, while at other times, her subdued aggression scampered in and out of each passing melody, reminiscent of Fiona Apple. While her music innately lacks diversity, especially on The Greatest, her delivery, stage presence and respectfulness towards the environment kept each song interpretively engaging. My insides kept fumbling around, wondering exactly what to feel with each song. Moreover, at times the sound of secularism returned to the Paradiso, while in other moments the salacious thoughts brewing inside would have warranted a slap in the face. Cat Power was exactly that; she demonstrated the mysterious, chameleonic attitude known in cats – well at least my cat - with a forcefulness, a power, mostly provided by the brilliant Memphis Rhythm Band.

After Marshall ran through her intended set, she left to let the band wield through one more instrumental gem before returning alone to cautiously tickle a piano for three songs. Again the audience, myself included, was mystified. Her voice, almost trembling through each lyric, was mesmerizing, and again my intonations were dichotomized. In one passing verse, I felt utter jubilance, and in another, I felt the need to mourn the passing of a close friend. I still feel that way now.

So I am still baffled; utterly impressed by both Marshall and the Memphis Rhythm Band, as well as their ability to mesh two completely different musical idioms into one so successfully. Furthermore, I have not felt, simply felt, for better and worse, as much in one hour in recent memory. I am still pondering, mourning, smiling and investigating. All that in one hour. How powerful.

JamBase | Amsterdam
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[Published on: 11/21/06]

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aaron420 starstarstarstarstar Wed 11/22/2006 08:43AM
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Great review Shain!

mcmanust Wed 11/22/2006 10:42PM
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God, I think she is one of the most attractive female singers ever. Such a beautiful face. It's too bad I wasn't famous and cool because thats who I would want to hang out with sober and all.

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Wed 11/22/2006 11:49PM
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wonderfull raw, honest review. i don't like when some folk write reviews like it's going to be a literary classic.

i've only really heard one cat power song. it's on a three disc matador comp. it's such a beutiful song that it set the bar pretty high. i expected all of her material to be just as moving. that wasn't the case, but i havn't given here a honst try.

alsoa101 starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/28/2006 02:41PM
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i heart chan.

bathtubgin22 Mon 12/4/2006 01:38PM
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hotchkiss, what song is it?