Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Am I Addicted to Cat Power? An Enquiry in 10 Parts

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Page 2 of 2

cat power live brooklyn masonic temple
  • Gretchen Robinette
Her greatest strength, her singularity, resides in the vowel: the grain of her vowel; stretching and straining the vowel; meandering around every vowel; subtle vibrato, sly improvisation inside her vowels; anguish and humor in her wistful and whimsical inflection of those vowels (a certain “e” sound will make me grimace, a certain “o” sound will make me grin), vowels of the American South—rasp and drawl; tobacco and bourbon—vowels I’d like to inhale like smoke or swallow like liquor. (Why my incessant urge to capture her essence, to reiterate her excellence, to declare that she’s one of the most extraordinary vocalists of all time?)

Hear, for instance, this phrase from “The Greatest” during the early performance in Brooklyn:

November 14: Eventually, in spite of her innate feline timidity, she relaxed... somewhat. She tapped an upbeat staccato with her black Acne boots. She bantered with and winked at the rapt, reverent crowd. Alternating between grand piano, acoustic and electric guitar, she returned to her roots, appearing unaccompanied after eight years of playing with three different bands. Performing songs from every era of her career—songs that have been havens for innumerable people around the world for nearly two decades—she was at home. In the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, she sounded transcendent: crystalline, ethereal as ever, utterly fluent.

cat power live brooklyn masonic temple boots
  • Gretchen Robinette
  • Cat Power's Boots

Due to the impending later set, the early one was half the length of the three-hour set preceding and following solo shows (with a four-hour concert in Cleveland). In retrospect, I should’ve hidden in the bathroom while the next audience entered. Knowing that I would’ve heard “Willie”, “Monster”, “Time is the Great Healer”, “Sea of Love”, “From Fur City”, and “Cross Bones Style” straight from the source—instead of filtered through the bootlegged recordings I’ve almost overdosed on—I fiend.

Two days later, I drove to Cambridge on a whim to hear her lecture for a small group of students at Harvard. She played one song—one of her best, “Maybe Not,” on keyboard, about four feet between her larynx and my eardrum—and I unexpectedly, vehemently wept; a peculiar thrumming in my bloodstream struck me as ecstasy. She saw me crying and, still singing and playing the keys, said, "You’re gonna make me cry," and then she did cry, for the duration of one note, before regaining her composure.

Now, listening to these bootlegs—recordings of the entire concert in Nashville (November 6), Philadelphia (November 16), and Cleveland (November 20)—it’s evident that she evolved during these past two months; her singing, as well as her banter, sounds more confident, more controlled, while she maintains the utmost vulnerability required for her to undergo the emotional intensity of each song. Though these performances are not without the quirks that have notoriously characterized her stage-presence (false starts, sudden stops, muttering, asking "Are you mad at me?"), the quirks construct a bridge over the former barrier between Chan and her audience. I hear her taking risks, trusting her capability to transcend error, stepping to the very edge to look at the eyes of the listeners.

On December 11, Chan and Nico resume the tour: Dallas, Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Pensacola, and then throughout Australia. If I could afford to, I’d fly South and abroad to see each show, to take every possible four-hour hit of that opiate voice. I guess I’m not such a bad addict after all. Anyhow, notwithstanding its swiftness, the first set in Brooklyn was no less substantial than any other. Her singing intoxicated me, entranced me.

And Chan traveled to that trance state, too: "I was trying to play the guitar with my voice," she said after fumbling, abruptly stopping a song and then starting a new one.

"The Greatest" (late show) by Cat Power at Brooklyn Masonic Temple:

Photos and Video by Gretchen Robinette

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