25th June 2013
Cat Power was originally scheduled to play London earlier in the year but it fell through. Luckily though it was rescheduled & Louder Than War popped along for what sounded like a mixed bag of a show.
Stories of Chan Marshall aka Cat Power being a, shall we say, unpredictable live performer abound and tonight’s gig at the Roundhouse veered between the sublime and the slightly perplexing. Perhaps only Bob Dylan is known for reinterpreting his own songs to such an extent that they are no longer recognizable but Cat Power makes quite a good job of it with several of her songs tonight.
With 2008’s Jukebox album Cat Power committed some re-workings, almost covers of her own songs, to record and she kicked off with an emotionally taught rendition of The Greatest tonight, hinting at this re-imagined songbook style that was to recur throughout the show. A slightly raw vocal alongside the complex rhythms of Cherokee then had the crowd thinking we were in for quite a ride and the momentum was maintained as Chan donned a guitar for the glam stomp of Silent Machine, also from last year’s excellent Sun LP.
There was a point though where this gig came off the rails a little. The atmosphere changed over the course of a few songs and in one of the only audible bits of chat from the stage Chan Marshall could be heard to say “Don’t worry, we’re almost done” at just under an hour in. But then a spirited 3,6,9 livened things up once again. The new songs performed tonight were all pretty faithful to the record. It was the older ones that, a-la-Dylan, got re-worked, such as a slightly strange I don’t blame you, done in an almost loungy fashion with different melodies, robbing it of the tenderness of the original which showcased the mournful vocal against a simple piano arrangement. It’s all the more strange when Cat Power is capable of brilliance in the next instant where a more recognizable version of Metal Heart is really affecting.
Whatever the eccentricities of Cat Power and the ebb and flow of tonight’s show, the vocals and guitar playing in particular are pretty spectacular. She can always unlock real emotion and connect with the audience as she does on Bully, a vivid reminiscence full of joy and sadness. “Nothing could be done, for this young wild son. Standing on the street in a hospital sheet, on the run…” Lyrics like these really can just stop you in your tracks & make you recognize how special and unique Cat Power is, hence the anticipation for this gig (combined of course with the previous postponement of this tour due to illness).
The most enraptured fans at the front of The Roundhouse were denied an encore but did get a bunch of white roses thrown at them a stem at a time over Cat Power’s shoulder. A piano driven Ruin finished things off, returning us to some of the momentum of the start of the gig and also reminding us what a striking album last year’s Sun is – probably Cat Power’s best and most consistent to date. All together tonight was a strange mixture but with enough flashes of brilliance to have everyone going back for more from a unique artist in an era where a lot of bands and performers are neither.
The mixed reaction to the gig in tweets:
@carolinesays Cat Power at the Roundhouse: not happy. Sound and lights were awful, guessing she was too out of it to notice.
Sun LP is out now on Matador Records – grab it via the widget on the right.
The Cat Power tour continues throughout Europe including Glastonbury and Latitude festivals.
All words by Willow Colios. More writing by Willow on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.