SEPTEMBER 13, CHICAGO
This was one of those Cat Power concerts. OK, not a total train wreck like some of the ones I’ve read about. But it certainly had more than its share of awkward moments when the train almost derailed.
I’ve never seen her before, though I’ve heard about her aborting songs and entire concerts. The reports were that she had her shit together for this tour.
The backup group playing behind her, the Memphis Rhythm Band, is great, and she seemed at ease playing the role of front-woman. Man, she has some odd dance moves. She was perched on stiletto heels — and though she took off and put on her shoes several times over the course of the night, even when she was barefoot, she seemed to be poised on her toes like she might fall over at any moment. She made swimming motions with her hands, danced Irish-style jigs, did whatever move seemed to pop into her head. Most of the time, this was charming, though it was disconcerting when she continued moving around like a kook even during a pensive ballad like “Where Is My Love?”
Midway through the show, the band left the stage and Chan Marshall played a solo set, mostly at the piano. She does have a great voice, which came though whether she had the whole band or just herself for accompaniment. But the solo set dragged with meandering songs and rambling talk (including her discussions of “Arrested Development” and Sandra Bernhard). Somewhere in there, she did a haunting cover of “The House of the Rising Sun,” though it devolved after a few minutes.
When the band came back, the concert regained its momentum, with covers of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” (a fine version, but that too got lost when Marshall couldn’t remember the lyrics).
The concert seemed to be ending. Marshall and some of the other musicians (including her backup singers) joined hands and did some impromptu a cappella bit. They took their bows … and then Marshall decided to go over to the piano for another solo set, warning, “This is going to bore you.” The performances that followed were fine, but they really felt poorly timed. She reached for her guitar, then changed her mind, saying, “I gotta go, I gotta go.” She won some concert-ending applause, but then remained on the stage and started talking about her hair. People got quiet to hear what she was saying, then she walked off and the house lights came up within seconds. End of show.
Marshall blamed her odd behavior on drinking too much coffee, and also explained, “Sorry. I’m so stupid because I’m happy, that’s all.”
Waiting a few minutes later on the el platform, I overheard a woman who’d been at the concert angrily telling her date, “She just crapped on the audience.” I wouldn’t go nearly that far, but I know what she meant.
For better or worse, Marshall performs a lot of unscripted moments. Overall, the concert was worth seeing for a number of good musical moments, but man, it would have been better with some editing.