Cat Power, Avalon, July 8, 2007
Nervously pacing the stage in a baggy T-shirt and jeans, Cat Power’s Chan Marshall is about the last performer you’d ever mistake for Tina Turner. Yet she pulled a neat trick Sunday night by claiming a song associated with Turner, even as she made it virtually unrecognizable. Her new band made a long, slow burn out of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and Marshall’s wilting-magnolia voice rendered the lyric as vulnerable as Turner’s treatment was tough. The song’s peak found her clipping syllables — “I Can’t. Can’t. Can’t! Stop myself” — while falling to the stage floor. In that moment, she didn’t just conquer her famous neuroses, she made them work for her.
RECOVERING: These days, Chan Marshall is making her neuroses work for her.
Marshall’s erratic behavior is by now legendary, and fans have probably shown up for more of her Boston shows than she has. But those days appear to be over. Last year, she completed a tour with the Memphis cats who played on her most recent studio album, The Greatest (Matador). This year she’s out with a different band called Dirty Delta Blues — a misnomer, since they play like the alt-rock Americana guys they are. (Guitarist Judah Bauer, from Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion, played a lot of slide guitar that sounded more David Gilmour than Elmore James.) Which isn’t a bad thing, since they’re helping Marshall work out a more twisted, personal take on soul than the straight-up one on the album.
Marshall hasn’t become less of an introvert on stage, though she did make a few attempts at stage patter. (“Drive home safe, blah blah blah” — that’s a quote.) Since she’s not playing guitar or keyboard on this tour, she seemed at a loss for what to do with her hands, and she usually sang from a corner at stage right, projecting across the stage instead of out toward the audience. Yet her confidence as a singer has grown. The Greatest was largely ignored on Sunday (the title song opened the set) in favor of older tunes and covers, some of which she seemed still to be learning. (She occasionally consulted a music stand.) There was considerable rearranging; “Theme from New York, New York” actually went by without any whoops of recognition.
Not everything worked. Unlike the version on Cat Power’s Covers Record, “Satisfaction” was done close to the original; it was the night’s only touch of Blues Explosion jive. But she did another transformation on James Carr’s oft-covered “Dark End of the Street,” by now the “Louie Louie” of deep-soul ballads. And in Marshall’s hands, the line “You and me at the dark end of the street” wasn’t a cheating lover’s confession — it was an invitation to join her in the psychic corner she inhabits.
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