Cat Power at the 5th Avenue Theater

Cat Power, Dark End of the Street, 2008The last chord progressions rang out on and on as she walked offstage, leaving us in her spell, then returned with a handful of daisies and white roses. She hopped down into the proscenium and tossed the flowers, one by one, into the crowd. After a stage hand helped her back up, she paced the stage, the music pulsing from the band, picking up set lists and crumpling them, lobbing those into the crowd as well. 

My first Cat Power concert, and aspects of it still float to me a week later. From the moment she walked on, picked up a guitar and started in with her rendition of "Satisfaction", the stage was electric with a kind of tension whose origin she shared with the audience.

"Sorry I'm nervous," she blurted a few songs in. "I'm nervous cause I'm happy to be here again. It's good to be here. It just...makes me nervous."

For me so much is in her hands - they move sometimes as if they can't help themselves, expressing some private feeling about the song, about how it feels to sing the song, but letting that feeling be visible, vulnerably, sharing it with us. The hands tell me tales of an artist saying what she wants to say, how she wants to say it.

She creates a mood, dark and inward, yet it never alienates. Somehow she brings me with her in her melancholy but doesn't ask me to wallow with her - the songs are too well structured for that, and the artistry of the structure provides a necessary distance. She's done the work.

This I think is one of the things that elevates her above so many singer-songwriters - she lets us in and doesn't let us down. We trust her, even as we are never sure what is going to happen onstage.

Legendary for her onstage breakdowns, she's famously now in better health and far more emotionally stable than ever. Still, there was a moment in the middle of the show when she wavered and seemed to come close to losing it.

She was playing her first piano song of the night. The band left the stage and part way in she struck some chords that were a little too interesting, though I swear she could have got away with it if she'd just kept going. Another off chord and she stopped. She leaned into the mic and said self-deprecatingly, "She's still got it!".

She banged a moment on the keys and I wondered if she would fall apart. 

Then she got up and moved on into the next number with her gently supportive, powerful, super-competent band who seem to know just what she needs to float free of herself into the songs, taking me and the whole room with her.


"There's an inspiration in being furious that you want to achieve your goals." - Chan Marshall / October 4, 2010 article

Cat Power was in Seattle as part of the Heineken City Arts Fest