Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

The Greatest

I will confess that I have avoided seeing Cat Power live in the past on account of her reputation as an… unpredictable performer. Though I’m sure for some that gamble is part of the appeal, I think I’d have just felt really uncomfortable if one of the shows I was at was one of her off-nights. So news of her recent sobriety and the fact that she was supporting what, for my money, is her best album – The Greatest – got me out on Labour Day evening for the second half of a double-header solo show. That and the guest listness.

While a little disappointed that the full Memphis Rhythm Band wasn’t going to be along for the ride, it was evident that she was deliberately going for an intimate vibe, what with opting for two shows at Lee’s Palace instead of one at a much larger venue. From the moment I arrived, I had the feeling that it was going to be a different sort of evening – for starters, the lineup was snaked all around the venue and into the parking lot around back. I cannot remember the last time, if ever, I stood in line at Lee’s Palace. Bizarro. Somewhat surprisingly, there still appeared to be some tickets available at the door – a betting man would have expected the show to be completely sold out. But if it wasn’t, it certainly felt it once everyone was inside. It was warm – not as stifling as I’ve experienced, but there would be more than one fainting victim before the evening was out. More on that later.

The scheduled 10:30 start time came and went and the natives began to get a little restless until Chan strolled out onstage at maybe 10 minutes to 11 to rapturous applause. Smiling – nay, BEAMING – Marshall seated herself with her electric guitar and began with, “House Of The Rising Sun”, and from the first whisper out of her mouth, that was it. For the next two hours plus, she would own us – every one. Her voice is like velvet and honey, delicate and raw and inhumanly expressive and perfectly accompanied by her guitar and piano playing. Playing from a tattered, red magic marker setlist (I suspect if anyone grabbed it as a souvenier, the rest of the tour would have to be cancelled), she mixed up new material with old and a liberal dose of covers and standards. The Greatest material sounded drastically different stripped of its R&B production, but still incredibly satisfying. And that voice. My God.

But perhaps more important and memorable than the actual performance was Chan Marshall herself. On this night, she was smiling, chatty, happy and radiant and seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. Seeing her for the first time, I was having great difficulty reconciling the artist onstage, communing with her audience, with the mercurial, difficult performer of legend. Not that I don’t believe the stories – I’ve heard far too many of them – but she must have checked that persona at the border because for Toronto on Monday night, she was just sublime. And beautiful. Hoo-boy.

Not that there wasn’t some eccentricity. About a third of the way through the show, she caught sight of someone in the wings offstage and became a little agitated, calling security to check it out because she had her personal belongings stashed in that room. But even that was more endearing than odd, with her alternately saying, “I got my stuff back there” with a little blues guitar riff, over and over again, until she was satisfied that she hadn’t been robbed. And then a while later, a girl in the audience near the front collapsed, likely from the heat, and taking notice, Chan became quite alarmed and came offstage to see what was the matter. Then, apparently satisfied that matters were in hand, disappeared without a word, leaving the audience confused and a little disconcerted. She was doing so well! But lo, after around 10 minutes, she came back onstage with a refilled mug of tea (“sober!”) and picked up where she left off, not a word of explanation. Not that anyone cared – as long as she was back (I think it was a smoke break).

All told and including impromptu intermission, she played for about two hours fifteen and though my knees and back thought that was plenty long enough, I’d have happily stayed and listened to her another couple hours more. I can’t speak for any other show on the tour or even the early show, but for this evening, Cat Power was simply amazing. If I’m ever ambivalent about seeing Cat Power live again, it’ll only be because I don’t know how she could top this performance.

Photos: Cat Power @ Lee’s Palace – September 4, 2006
MP3: Cat Power – “The Greatest”
Video: Cat Power – “Living Proof” (YouTube)
Video: Cat Power – “Lived In Bars” (YouTube)

And note that while Matador is rereleasing The Greatest next week with three different slipcovers and a lower list price, there are NO bonus materials that would require fans to re-purchase the album. They’re just trying to give the album a second life in retail. But if you do want something new, there’s an exclusive iTunes session available as of yesterday – full details on both these releases and some pre-emptive defense of the re-release here.

Billboard has info about the Sufjan Stevens Christmas box set due out November 21, Songs of Christmas will compile five Christmas records and a stocking full of holiday bonus goodies. More info at Asthmatic Kitty.

NME reports that The Shins will release Wincing The Night Away on January 23 of next year. Just in time for a really really late Christmas gift.

And that was a really long review, so that’s it for today. Except for this – Hedgehogs vs McDonalds – and the hedgehogs win. How does something like this become an epidemic?

np – Grizzly Bear / Yellow House

By : Frank Yang at 8:28 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. brads says:

    Saw her here in Boston last night, and while I heard the 7pm show was relatively smooth, the 10pm set was, um, well… awkward. When she was able to get through a song without stopping, it was absolutely beautiful… but that was only about half the time. The more she stopped (distraction/perceived technical issues), the more depressed/angry at herself she got… and then she’d stop again to say how mad she was at herself. The whole audience just wanted to give her a big hug…

  2. Frank in Atlanta says:

    Great review, Frank, and even better photos. She’s coming home to Atlanta next Tuesday night, and I can’t wait to see how she performs all sober and happy. As much as I love her (she used to sling pizzas in my neighborhood here, and we all had crushes on her), I had all but given up on the live shows until I started reading reviews like yours.

  3. Frank says:

    brad – yeah, despite the "I’m feeling much better now" I’ve read about, I’d still heard some disappointing things from the current tour indicating that she was still more than a little fragile (though much better than in the past). So I don’t take for granted one bit that we got what I can only imagine is Chan at her very best. Lucky lucky lucky.

  4. Seth says:

    I was at the first Toronto show and your review sums up that show as well. She was so great and adorable. She did covers ranging from Johnny Cash to Bonnie Prince Billy to the Stones to Django Reindhart. I couldn’t believe how long she played for, it was so awesome.

  5. Alizee says:

    The 7 o’clock show was also amazing!! Apparently, she didn’t get to Lee’s before 6.15 – was lost somewhere in traffic and nobody could get hold of her. So the whole thing was a bit of a miracle in the end. And yes, probably will not take another chance on seeing her in the future – too good.

  6. Alizee says:

    By the way, Mew are doing a headline show at the Mod on September 25 – $10.

  7. Frank says:

    cool. I really didn’t want to see Kasabian…

  8. Mike says:

    Chan performed a beautiful set yesterday at Lee’s Palace during the evening. Although I have several of her albums(I’ve had "Moon Pix" for ages) I will admit that I’m fairly unfamiliar with her material. Yes, it’s pretty much a consensus that her she’s been a trainwreck during her past Toronto live shows. But she redeemed herself beautifully yesterday. It was the most full I’ve ever seen Lee’s Palace get. Anyone know if she played her cover of Pavement’s "We Dance". Her covers are so amazing that they sound like originals initially before you realize that it’s a cover version.

  9. Quinn says:

    As someone who’s a massive Chan Marshall apologist (no no, trust me, tonight was bad, but when she’s on, she’s really on), I’m glad TO got such a great show. Vancouver was equally enjoyable on this tour.

  10. danieljosef says:


    Mew at Mod Club!
    Sooo excited!

  11. Carrie says:

    She didn’t have me…I ended up leaving. It was probably more the fact that I was tired, it was hot, she was very mellow and the lighting REALLY sucked for photos, but I just couldn’t stay any longer. Hope the rest of the show was good…wish I could’ve gotten into it.

  12. Nilina says:

    I saw her too-though in Portland. Very similar set and opinion
    My review is here:

  13. NS says:

    I second your review, I saw her here in California and she seemed sober if still nutty and adorably insecure. She played two shows back-to-back and I heard that the first went much better.

  14. Savannah Skye says:

    I’ve seen her live solo and with backing band (after sober) and I love her even more than before seeing her live!!!