Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gig Review: Cat Power, Wellington, 2013

I hadn’t intended to go to Cat Power at the Wellington Town Hall, but when two comp tickets landed in my lap during the week leading up to the gig, well, I was quietly pleased ... even if it meant abandoning all last gasp hope of seeing the Wedding Present perform on the same night, and the shunning of a friend’s birthday meal. And actually, a little worryingly, the two comps weren’t in the form of physical tickets, rather it was the altogether less convincing assurance that “your name (plus one) will be on the door”.

And so it was.

As it turned out, arriving fashionably late was something of a risk; we missed whatever warm-up act had played in support, and had only just purchased a couple of drinks when Chan Marshall and her band suddenly appeared on stage, launching into ‘The Greatest’ before we’d even had a chance to settle into the small-to-moderate sized crowd. The gig certainly wasn’t a sell out (and I suspect part of that was due to the Wedding Present playing across town).
‘The Greatest’ set the tone for the evening, all moody build up and atmosphere, an ebbing and flowing of Marshall’s always heartfelt vocal delivery as the band immediately warmed to its task. From there it was into ‘Cherokee’ and a journey through most of her 2012 album, Sun; ‘Ruin’, ‘3, 6, 9’ and ‘Nothin’ But Time’ being among the show’s highlights.

Yet there was no one single show-stopping highpoint in the performance, and at no time was I standing there spellbound by what was happening on stage, or in awe of what I was hearing. It all felt a little bit cold and clinical. Chan Marshall tends to get lost in her performance, or at the very least, lost in the role play of tortured artist, and there was a sense she was acting it out a little.

The band was tight – very Cure-esque, I thought, which placed Sun in a slightly different context, so I must return for another listen – but the star was Marshall herself, just as it should be, dominating the stage and squeezing every last raw emotion out of that unique voice. It is just that the gig never really peaked, and it felt like it was just another city, another venue, another night. Business as usual for Cat Power.

There was a point where Marshall attempted to cajole the crowd into an obligatory “cigarette lighter moment”, taking her own lighter out, giving it the requisite spark, only to then be confronted by blank looks and wider crowd apathy. They just weren’t feeling it like she was. Either that, or there are clearly no smokers anymore, and those pesky lighters just weren’t on hand.

And then right at the end, no warning that the (70-minute?) gig was close to coming to an end, no sign of any encore … nothing, just a blast of what appeared to be some bad taste Hip hop track at the conclusion of her set, in what was almost certainly a shameless ploy to remove us from the venue as quickly as possible. It was done.

The lack of an encore was disappointing. I had banked on her ‘New York New York’ cover being wheeled out, or perhaps one or two tracks from the back catalogue could have been given an airing, but it seems the passion just wasn’t there, and we weren’t going to get one. We weren’t even allowed to superficially go through the motions of screaming for more.

The sound at the Town Hall wasn’t the best, or even remotely close to the best it’s been in the past – it was “muddy”, just as another blogger has described it – but for some reason that didn’t bug me as much as it usually would.

I had few expectations at the outset and that was perhaps just as well. I suspect a few of the more committed Cat Power devotees may have been underwhelmed by what was delivered, but my own starting point was that I had nothing to lose, and I wound up enjoying the night. For all of the flaws, I was generally pretty happy just to live in Marshall’s performance for an hour or so, to stand alongside her, and to take it all in. I just went with it … and it worked.
Here's something we missed:

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