Monday, August 20, 2007

Meow Mix

The Cat Power (AKA Chan Marshall) concert was quite the experience. I showed up about an hour before doors and brought my camera. I thought everything would be cool with the camera because several employees saw me standing in line with it (and the people behind me had an SLR too), and none of them said anything to me about it. When I got up to the will call window I heard them tell the person in front of me that cameras were not allowed. They said it all depends on the wishes of the performer and that CP had a big freakout that day and didn’t want any cameras in the place. I was pissed, but I noticed that after they gave me my wristband nobody was looking at me so I just walked in. After I was ensconced up front a guy came around and gave us a speech and all he said was that flashes were not allowed. So I thought I was golden since I didn’t want to use a flash anyway. I’ll come back to the camera issue in a moment.

The opening act was a guy named Micah P. Hinson. He did folksy/rock kind of songs with just an electric guitar and his voice. Kind of a Dylanesque trip. I liked his stuff, I thought he was enjoyable. There was a huge distraction for me during his set, though. While everyone was waiting for the show to start, these 2 Russian guys came in and stood next to me. They were just yakketty, yakketty, yacking their asses off in Russian. Before the show started I actually didn’t find them too distracting. In fact, I think listening to them was better than listening to people blabber in English. I get really distracted when I hear people talking, it’s kind of like my brain can’t help but focus on the conversation. The fact that I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying made it easier to tune them out. That is until the opening act came on. These 2 idiots just kept right on talking to each other throughout the whole set. And of course they had to talk more loudly to be heard over the music. What kind of idiots do this on the front row? The performer was clearly annoyed although he didn’t say anything. I think he played some louder numbers for the purpose of drowning them out. I shot them a couple of stinkeyes but it didn’t help. I was prepared to say something if they continued during CP, and I didn’t think CP would take too kindly to it either.

I was nervous about the camera, so I let the guy who was a couple of people over from me (and who also had an SLR) make the first move to see what would happen. He took some photos during the opening act, and no one seemed to mind, so I took a few as well. I thought I would do the same thing with CP, let him try it first and see what happened. I didn’t want to be the guy that caused her to flip out and end her show!

There was quite a long wait in between acts, about 45 minutes. People were starting to get restless when CP finally took the stage around 10:30. She came out with a cup of coffee (which now subs for the booze) and a cigarette. She set down the coffee and handed the cigarette to one of the Russian guys. I thought maybe she wanted him to hold on to it for a while, but apparently she was done with it. He either thought the same thing or wasn’t a smoker because he never took a puff. She started off with “The Greatest” and it sounded pretty good. I’m not sure if it was a function of being right at the front of the stage or what, but I couldn’t understand much of what she said all evening when she spoke into the mic. Apparently people further back could because they laughed at certain points. On the songs the vocals sounded kind of quiet, so maybe being right up front wasn’t the place to get the best sound. The band (Dirty Delta Blues Band) was great. Chan performs lots of cover songs, but you may not know that some of them are covers because of the way that she totally reinvents them. Pretty much only the words remain the same. Nothing else does – chords, vocal phrasings, or even melodies. “Satisfaction” was nearly unrecognizable. Thankfully the Russians fell silent.

I have to say that Cat gave her all during this show. She was dancing around a little bit, kneeling down at times, leaning against the monitors, whipping her mic cord around, and several times getting right up on the edge the stage in what seemed an effort to connect with the people in the back. It was very surreal for me to see her leaning against the monitor that was directly in front of me and looking down at me while she sang. Surreal, but amazing. She looked directly at me a couple of times, and I couldn’t help but smile. She smiled back too. Awesome. She lit up several times during the show and after taking a few drags would offer the cigarette to someone in the crowd (hey mom, I got mono from Cat Power!). At one point someone sparked up a J and then offered it to her. She took it and looked at it, but when she figured out it was a joint she gave it back. The whole smoking thing was kind of funny because this was a non-smoking venue. At one point the security guys made someone near me put out the cigarette they got from Cat. I heard them protest: “But it came from her!” Security didn’t care. And is Chan big in the lesbian community? The only reason that I ask is because there were a lot of women and girls just going crazy to get one of her cigarettes. They were practically swooning. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So about the camera. I kept waiting for the other guy to bring out his camera, but he never did. There were lots of camera phones going off, including many flashes, and there was no freakout occurring, so I finally decided to try using mine. I took a few photos, but it was very dark on stage so I wasn’t sure how well they would turn out. After about an hour and 15 minutes Cat said they were taking a break (I did catch some of those words) and said they would be back. During the break I was leaning against the stage reviewing some of my photos when a guy who worked there came up to me and told me I needed to stop taking pictures. He said they had kicked out about 40 people for using cameras and that I had to stop. I told him I would. I have no idea why he didn’t kick me out (maybe because I wasn’t using a flash?). If CP decided not to come back I was hoping that it wasn’t my fault! Thankfully after a pretty short break they did come back and I kept the camera in my camera bag for the rest of the show. Being fairly new to the world of CP, I don’t think I fully realized that this was something that actually could have derailed her performance. From what I’ve been able to determine she’s ended shows over less. Next time I’ll heed the warning.

The vibe was strange but interesting. It seems like the band didn’t have a setlist after the first handful of songs. Chan would kind of rely on the band to pick a song and then she would start singing if she approved of it. Sometimes the keyboard player would start playing a song and sometimes it was the guitar player. When she heard something she liked she got all excited and then would start singing at the appropriate point. At the end of many of the songs she would give a thumbs up or thumbs down I guess to indicate whether she thought it was any good or not. A surprising number of songs she rated as thumbs down, even though I thought they sounded great. It’s funny how people’s own perception of themselves can differ so much from how others perceive them. As the night went on though the number of thumbs up songs increased. This method of picking songs kind of resulted in a weird lull in-between songs that seemed to sap some of the energy from the room until the next song started. On the flip side though it also fostered a feeling of spontaneity and the feeling that something incredible could happen. She seemed to feed off of the energy of the crowd as the night wore on.

At one point she said that the song that the band started playing was her dog’s favorite song, and she brought her dog out on stage. The dog looked like a Boston terrier mixed with something else. The dog wandered around the stage and would sometimes come up to the front to get some lovin’ from the crowd. Chan kept a really close eye on the dog when she would go up to the front of the stage, and one time she came out and retrieved her after the dog went up to the front. The show came to an end at about 10 minutes after 1(!), after Chan had been playing drums with the band for about 10 minutes. Finally, I see another concert of Ween-like length!

It was a very entertaining show. You definitely got the sense that this was a mercurial artist that you were watching. I’m betting that you rarely see the same show twice with CP. We lucked out and all the seemingly disparate elements came together to make a satisfying stew (if you will). At times she seemed almost shy up there, and at other times she seemed like the consummate performer. You got the sense that this is someone who likes to take risks and experiment. You know, like an actual artist. Of course when someone does that they take the chance that the risks might not pay off, but when they do it can lead to interesting things. Apparently her shows were a lot more hit or miss when she was still drinking. There is still that element of unpredictability, though. Would I go again? Damn skippy. Why would so many people put up with all this craziness? That voice. Listen to it and you’ll understand.

MP3: The Greatest

The opening act - Micah P. Hinson

There was just something I really loved about how this amp looked in the light, and the beer sitting on top.

Here's his Bob Dylan suitcase.

Cat Power - AKA Chan Marshall

Did I mention how dark it was?

That's her coffee cup sitting behind her music stand.

And this is her shoe!



Blogger paintergirl said...

She is totally loved in the lesbian community-and she used to have breakdowns on stage. Chan seems like one of those types, you know-Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Kurt. Their voices and lyrics...troubled souls writing beautiful songs. The world is too much with them...

I'm so happy you saw her.

As for the russians

8/21/2007 9:21 AM  
Blogger hollibobolli said...

I'm going to try this one more time. I lost internet power after typing an entire long comment. I'm getting really fed up with whatever service we have here, amongst other internet problems!!

One of my girlfriends was/is soooo into Cat Power.. I didn't remember it until I listened to one of the samples.

This was probably my favorite concert review you've written. Most excellent.

I was sure you were going to say the Russians took your camera and smashed it to the ground.

8/21/2007 3:42 PM  
Blogger JC said...

pg - you're totally right. I thought of Elliott Smith on the way home from the concert. I wonder why so many great artists are like that? And it's not just musicians, take Van Gogh for example. If you look at it from a medical perspective you could say that all of these people were/are clinically depressed. That seems more common among artists, I wonder why? I hope Chan pulls through, she seems much better than she used to be from what I gather.

h - thank you! She's supposed to play DC in October. GO!

8/21/2007 9:03 PM  
Blogger JC said...

Oh, and if they had smashed my camera, I don't care if there were 2 of them and if they ended up totally kicking my ass, but I would have inflicted some damage on them.

8/21/2007 9:14 PM  
Blogger JC said...


8/21/2007 9:17 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

I have heard that she is fairly volatile but that's kind of crazy! A little crazy.
I'm glad that you were able to enjoy the show in spite of the obnoxious Russians. How irritating! Should this ever happen again (and I hope it does not), bribe them into shutting up with vodka. It'll work, I should know!

8/22/2007 4:44 PM  

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