October 23, 2007

Weird and Wonderful: Cat Power in Concert

Cat Power and The Dirty Delta Blues Band: October 21, 2007: State Theatre, St. Petersburg, FL

The sound didn’t fit the vision. While her voice reverberated through the room to mostly slow and bluesy music, Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, timidly pranced around the stage as if craving a sugar fix. Odd as it was to watch, however, on Sunday night at the State Theatre, her singing fortunately didn’t suffer from her incongruous demeanor.

Backed by The Dirty Delta Blues Band, Marshall’s low and smoky voice was initially overpowered by the volume of the music. Because of this the first few songs, which included a tempered version of “The Greatest,” sounded almost indecipherable.

Contributing to the sonic obscurity, the spotlights scarcely illuminated the stage and, in particular, the singer, who seemed more comfortable in the shadows. Whether intentional or caused by an electrical glitch, the darkness effectively concentrated the audience’s focus on the show’s genuine center of attention: Chan Marshall’s voice.

Thankfully, the audio engineer adjusted the mix and a swift run through of “Naked If I Want To” fared much better. The subtle southern funk of “Could We” also came off rather well, its groove reminiscent of records produced in the sixties and seventies by Stax. 

Much to the bewilderment of the standing-room-only audience, Marshall, looking nervous and distracted, called for an abrupt “eight-minute” intermission. Returning with enough refreshments for the front quarter of the crowd, she then spent a good 10 minutes pouring water into cups and passing them out one by one. While a thoughtful gesture, it seemed strange nonetheless, given that the concert was in a modest air-conditioned room rather than at some outdoor venue. 

Apologizing for the sudden break and promising not to stop again until the very end (which would feature no encore) Marshall appeared more focused and sounded, more often than not, incredible. What she lacked in vocal might she more than compensated for with resonance and raw emotion. 

Case in point, her understated rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Can’t See Myself Leaving You” yielded one of the night’s finest performances. Also, “Where Is My Love” ached with palpable tenderness and solemnity.

“Lived in Bars,” which had garnered incessant requests from the fervent crowd all night, suitably brought the concert to a close.

At times, the woman with the superhuman-sounding pseudonym of Cat Power appeared all too human, exhibiting indiscriminate quirks and signs of reticence, perhaps even stage fright.

Yet, whenever Chan Marshall settled into a song, her captivating voice saturated the room and satisfied everyone within it, rendering all of the evening’s peculiarities utterly irrelevant.