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:
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
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.