More thoughts on Cat Power…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 1:54 pm November 26, 2013
Cat Power at the piano, The Slowdown, Nov. 22, 2013.

Cat Power’s Chan Marshall alone at the piano, The Slowdown, Nov. 22, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

A leftover thought about Cat Power that didn’t make it into yesterday’s review, which just happens to be one of the most read Lazy-i blog entries this year. Clearly people love Chan Marshall and love her music and are concerned about her and her well-being. Or they just wanted to read a description of a (perceived) train-wreck of a show.

Anyway… one final thought about that show, and it’s this: Is anybody looking out for Marshall’s best interests? Who thought it would be a good idea to send her on the road alone, barely able to play her music, and then nod approvingly at the idea of a two-plus-hour set?

Very few are the artists that can keep the attention of a crowd for more than two hours unaccompanied. Springsteen is the only one that comes to mind. I’m sure there are a few others. But not Marshall. I like Cat Power music, but it can become monotonous by its very nature. Marshall doesn’t do much to change it up from song to song, and her best albums achieve variety thanks to the backing musicians (The Greatest, where she surrounded herself with Memphis soul musicians). You quickly realize this after the first hour of the same three-chord progressions.

All she needs is one musician to join her. Just one to play piano. How much could that cost? And then limit her set to 45 minutes, an hour tops. That’s it. She might even be able to pull off an hour without that additional player — an hour of her best music, well-rehearsed. That’s all anyone really wants.

Where is Matador in all this? Is it the record label’s responsibility to provide some feedback? No. They put out the records; they don’t manage their artists’ live shows. Still, it must be like being a parent watching his/her troubled daughter go out every night to succeed or fail on her own.

By the way, reviews of Cat Power shows have been somewhat consistent. The Chicago Tribute review of the Cat Power show the night before ours described Marshall as “out of gas and running on fumes.” While a Consequence of Sound review of her Nov. 14 D.C. show called it “suspenseful.” Both mentioned her fragile condition.

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I’m looking for shows and can’t find any tonight. Looks like the weekend starts tomorrow with POLIÇA.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Cat Power’s Chan Marshall Struggles through marathon solo performance; Hear Nebraska launches Kickstarter…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:50 pm November 25, 2013
Cat Power at The Slowdown, Nov. 22, 2013.

Cat Power at The Slowdown, Nov. 22, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

It would be easy to make fun of last Friday night’s Cat Power show at The Slowdown except for the fact that there obviously was something wrong with Chan Marshall.

Throughout the two-and-a-half hour solo performance Marshall looked anxious and irritated, clearly struggling with either an illness or a serious case of anxiety, stage fright or just not being prepared, all the while constantly being distracted by someone in the crowd who was baiting her from the edge of the stage (whether that person realized it or not).

Marshall came on late at around 11 with an electric guitar, which she played for the first hour of the marathon performance, banging out older material along with a cover of the Stone’s “Satisfaction,” which was sublime. But it was later in that hour that the cracks began to show, as she struggled to remember the chords while marching in place to an internal beat, often leaning over and coughing off microphone.

At the end of the first hour she began talking to herself or someone off stage, trying to figure out something with her guitar before hastily putting it down and walking over to the massive upright piano that stood to her left. She sat down and played one song after another for another 90 or so minutes. I use the term “played piano” loosely, as the arrangements were sparse and somewhat cryptic. One song featured Marshall poking out a series of triplets only with her left hand while agitatedly fidgeted with her right.

About halfway through the set I recorded a song with my iPhone — “The Greatest” off the album of the same name. I watched the video just now. There sits Marshall with her back to me, agonizing over the barely recognizable chords, skittishly playing like a piano student sight-reading the music for the first time — unsure, unsteady, halting, then playing the wrong chord, stopping, quickly playing a run-though of all the chords to try to remember the progression (with the crowd yelling encouragement) before starting again. It was disturbing.

The song eventually wandered away without really ending as Marshall switched to something else entirely and the crowd half-ass clapped realizing that was the end of that one.

Moments later, Marshall became unglued. As mentioned, throughout the performance someone — likely an adoring fan — kept trying to talk to Marshall. In response, Marshall would kind of carry on a conversation with her or respond to whatever was being said, mostly off microphone. Some of the baiting remarks resulted in Marshall launching into a babbling monologue about some inanity.

Finally Marshall got exasperated and began yelled at the fan . “What you’re doing is really f—-ing annoying,” she said (I’m paraphrasing here). “It’s not funny. It’s annoying.” And so on. Marshall would later apologize for the outburst, but that didn’t stop whoever it was from talking to her from the front of the stage.

It went further downhill from there. Before one song, Marshall fiddled around trying to figure out the chords for a full 30 seconds, talking to herself the entire time but then ultimately figuring them out. She called for opener Nico Turner to come out. “Is Nico in the house?” A few minutes later Nico walked across stage, but then exited without playing. She would call for Nico later, who likely now was standing off stage, watching.

Marshall finally got tired of the piano and slung her guitar back on at around 12:30. By now she was clearly fractured, disturbed, slightly confused and excessively jittery. It probably didn’t help that she had downed two mugs of coffee that sat on her piano throughout the performance and had a stage person bring out a third.

As 1 a.m. rolled around, Marshall declared that she could keep going, though by then the once-full floor was nearly half empty, and I was sitting alone along the railing next to empty seats. She ended up playing another 20 or so minutes before exiting with a salute, a chest pound, a kiss to the audience.

Here’s the funny part: Throughout the entire monotonous ordeal, Marshall’s voice was, well, remarkable. Her amazing voice never gave up on her. I realize after reading Chris Aponick’s interview that she can’t afford to bring a band on the road any more, but it was obvious after that show that she can’t afford NOT to have a band backing her. Marshall needs to push away from the piano, set the guitar down and let someone else worry about the instruments, and simply focus on her gorgeous vocals.

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Last Friday Hear Nebraska launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their upcoming Vol. 2 compilation album. The 10-song collection is going to be pressed on vinyl and is the perfect time capsule of Nebraska’s music scene circa 2013.

The album’s lineup:

SIDE A

1. Universe Contest | “The Day the Earth Took Pills” from the upcoming full-length, We Are the Rattlesnake
2. Pleasure Adapter | “Everything Has Been Erased” from the band’s self-titled EP
3. Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship | “Caucasian Meditation” from the LP You Need You
4. Millions of Boys | “Dudcats” from Competing for Your Love
5. Tim Kasher | “American Lit” from the Saddle Creek Records release Adult Film

SIDE B

6. Skypiper | “Even If” from the Troubledoer EP
7. Conchance | “The Dead Daylight,” previously unreleased
8. McCarthy Trenching | “29” from a Love Drunk Session
9. Lloyd McCarter | “Big Time” from Tired of Being Me
10. Simon Joyner | “Javelin,” recorded live at Hear Nebraska’s An Evening event

Hear Nebraska is positioning the campaign as an album pre-sale. $20 gets you a slab of vinyl and a download code, but there are plenty of other cool options available, including signed posters and copies of the record. Check it out. As of this morning they were nearly a quarter of the way toward their $4,000 goal.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Cat Power, The Sons of O’Leaver’s, Travelling Mercies, Swearin’ tonight; The Audacity, Phox Saturday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 11:26 am November 22, 2013

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I saw Cat Power play at Sokol Underground a decade ago. Here’s what I wrote about that show:

Live review: Cat Power April 19 at The Sokol – April 20, 2003

Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) (By the way, she should just change her name to Chan Pronounced Shawn Marshall and save the typesetters and copy editors all the trouble of adding it to their stories. Someone at The Reader actually added the explanation to mine. I hadn’t included it in my draft, figuring no one was dying to know how to pronounce Ms. Marshall’s first name and it seemed unlikely that they’d ever get a chance to use that correct pronunciation. I was dying for someone last night to yell at the top of his/her voice “Chan, we love you!” but pronounce it like the surname of the famous Chinese detective, then being shamed by everyone with “It’s Shawn, not Chan, stupid!“) Marshall didn’t blow up on stage last night. There was no car wreck. In fact, the cars just seemed to zip around the track at their usual languid pace. And I think I was the only one disappointed.

I showed up apparently four songs into her set. I talked to a guy back by the cash register smoking cigarettes near the soundboard who said, “Yeah, she’s on her fourth song, but it sounds like she’s been playing the same song for 20 minutes.”

From the April 2003 Sokol Underground show. That's Chan on the lower left.

From the April 2003 Sokol Underground show. That’s Chan on the lower left. Man, I miss Sokol Underground shows.

I grabbed a beer and pushed my way through the cramped, sold-out crowd, making my way to my usual spot along the wall stage right. Adoring fans were sitting on the edge of the stage, next to the old upright piano that someone had placed up there (I imaged poor Marc and Jimmy — our faithful promoters — struggling with the 2-ton monstrosity). I figured the women sitting with a guitar in the middle of the stage was Chan, and began snapping some pictures. But when the song ended, the crowd applauded and she and the rest of the band went off stage. In fact, Chan was about three feet from me, hidden behind the oak soundboards of the piano, where she stayed for a medley of four or five songs, played end-to-end without pause, while the doe-eyed crowd stared in silence and awe.

Most crowds at Sokol Underground are, shall we say, respectful. But this one was particularly reverent, worshiping at the temple of Chan. For the first time since maybe Bright Eyes, there were more girls than boys in the crowd, flying single or with other girls. One innocent-looking girl standing right against the stage wore a T-shirt that said “Rockandroll Motherfucker” and clearly was entranced by everything Chan did.

Speaking of Entrance, the opening band canceled, apparently last minute, and Landon Hedges a.k.a Fine Fine Automobiles, opened the show. I missed it, of course, but was told it was one of his best performances.

Anyway… after her solo piano numbers, Chan turned around on her stool and grabbed a guitar, did a couple numbers before the rest of the band joined her on stage for the best part of the set, where things became suddenly electrified and all full of fire verging on psychedelic. As always, I don’t know the names of the songs and don’t have a set list to share. I’m told a couple were covers, but I recognized a few from Moon Pix and the new CD. If there was a time where Chan could possibly have burst into flames in her legendary, ritualistic sort of way, it would have been when her band member’s guitars cut out completely during one song. I could see his face, laughing and shaking his head in sort of a “who me?” sort of way. Moments later, though, the guitar was up and running again and Chan played on with her eyes pressed shut.

No theatrics, no tears, no screaming, no back-turned-to-the-audience. And no encore, by the way. As she walked off stage, she shielded her eyes with her forearm while she waved to the crowd with her index finger, sort of in Redrum fashion or as if she were spraying the audience with a magical, imaginary spray bottle. And that was the last we saw of Chan Pronounced Shawn Marshall for the evening.

I suspect tonight’s concert at The Slowdown will be similar to that Sokol Undeground show. And if Chris Aponick’s interview with Chan is any indication, we could hear many of the same songs. Chan is flying solo and not playing anything from her most recent album, Sun (Matador, 2012). It could be why tickets are still available (for $25, get yours here), though I wouldn’t be surprised if it sells out before the 9 p.m. start time. Opening is LA native Nico Turner, and based on this Matador Records blurb, she could join Chan on a few numbers.

That’s not the only show going on tonight.

Down at O’Leaver’s, The Sons of O’Leaver’s are opening for The Travelling Mercies tonight. Joining them is Lincoln band Weldon Keys. $5, 9:30 p.m.

And at the Sweatshop Gallery in baumy Benson it’s Swearin’ (members of Waxahatchee) headlining with Flamboyant Gods and Coaxed (who I thought were called Co-Axed, at least that’s how it’s spelled on the cassette). $7, 9 p.m. Check out some Swearin’ below

Tomorrow night (Saturday) it’s back to O’Leaver’s for Fullerton, CA punk band The Audacity (Burger Records, Suicide Squeeze).  Touring with them is Brooklyn PA band Hunters (Mom+Pop Records). Our very own Video Ranger opens. $5, 9:30 p.m. Check out some Audacity below:

Also Saturday night, Slowdown Jr. is hosting Madison band Phox, who just got off the road with Blitzen Trapper. Lot Walks opens. $8, 9 p.m.

The weekend closes out Sunday, once again at O’Leaver’s, with Goon Saloon, John Klemmensen and the Party and Self-Evident. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Did I forget something? Add it to the comments section. Stay warm, Omaha…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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