Of all the rambling performances I've ever witnessed, this had to be the most awkward show I've ever attended. Cat Power, pseudonym for the indie-rock torch singer Chan (pronounced Sean) Marshall, just could not get it together. It was almost midnight when Chan and band hit the stage, after opening act Entrance--a lone shaggy guitar player who could have passed as a clone of folk legend Tim Buckley, except that he sang more like punk screamer John Lydon--got off to a late start. With her new touring band, consisting of Will Fratesi on drums, Coleman Lewis on guitar and Margaret White on just about everything else (but mostly violin), Cat Power started with the pensive "Baby Doll." But there was a horrible buzz and the bass was overbearing in the sound system. The crowd seemed supportive but the sound quality was so bad most people continued talking.
Three or four songs into the set, the band left the stage and much of the audience left the show. People could sense things were going astray. As the crowd thinned out, Chan reappeared onstage, and began to go back and forth between piano and guitar, playing a random and sketchy assortment of songs, including a number of her own, but mostly covers like "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and even a snippet of "Golden Age" from Beck's most recent CD. This would have been fine if she played a song from start to finish and stopped mumbling incoherently. But no such luck.
I'm not sure what she was going on about--numerous apologies, complaints about the sound and random odd comments made up her stage "banter." I heard much talk among the remaining crowd that this wasn't just an "off" night. The fumbling and breakdowns are apparently common in Chan-land but this was a full-out cry for help that seriously made one think the remaining Cat Power tour should be canceled for Chan's mental health.
Perhaps the naked intensity that haunts Cat Power's excellent new disc You Are Free was too much live. It creeped out the Cradle-crowd just looking for fun on a Friday night. "I'll stick to her records from now on," a friend of mine said as we were leaving. I will too, though I'm sure the next time I crank up a Cat Power record or CD on the stereo, it will make me want to send Ms. Marshall a get-well-soon card.