with Empire State
Echo Lounge, Atlanta • December 23, 1998
Chan Marshall, the creative force behind Cat Power, has traveled a long way, in both miles and attitude. She’s been around the world, but has recently arrived back home, seemingly matured and at peace. Her December show at the Echo Lounge (sandwiched between tours of Europe and a working vacation in Australia) showed a new and different side of Cat Power.
Chan (pronounced “shawn”) grew up in Atlanta, the daughter of a musician; she left home early for New York to play music, and managed to get the attention of Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley. He worked with her as she put out a handful of great records, and songs full of torment, pain and raw emotion.
1996’s What Would the Community Think brought her more attention, but the pressures of performing and the music business in general made her decide to leave the city for South Carolina, where she literally didn’t pick up a guitar for a year. Now, she’s moved back to Atlanta, and is touring behind her latest release, Moon Pix (on Matador).
Her music has evolved and matured; Moon Pix is slicker, more produced, but better to showcase her piercing voice and beautiful, haunting lyrics and melodies. The songs on this record seem to have a more positive message, and her performance reflects this, too. In past years, Chan would play alone, but seemed very uncomfortable with the spotlight. The tension and meltdowns became part of the show – she would stop in mid-song, still strumming the guitar to keep people from applauding, apologizing for her “mistakes.” Songs were sometimes unrecognizable, stripped-down from the recorded versions, rawer and reflecting the vulnerability she felt onstage.
More recently, she’s been playing with a full band and has toured the world, playing club dates and festivals across Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. This night at the Echo Lounge featured local musicians Chris Lopez (of the Rock*A*Teens) and Mark Moore backing her up, the same band that has toured with her most recently.
The opening band, Empire State, was unimpressive. Even before I knew they were from Athens, they reminded me of Love Tractor – somewhat experimental, strongly instrumental, but still in need of some more experience before I would consider recommending them.
Cat Power took the stage, and it was apparent Chan is still not completely comfortable as a “star”; only briefly would she brush her hair back from her face. But, the performance was completely different than in the past. Gone were the false starts and stops, replaced by confidence and a command of the stage. The band provided a steady and consistent backdrop for her amazing voice – sliding along smooth and quiet, then rising up to surprise you the way a snake might appear unexpectedly in an otherwise peaceful field. Most of the songs were from Moon Pix, I only recognized one from Community, a bluesy treatment of “They Tell Me.”
She seemed to be enjoying herself, and I’m glad. There was no reason for her to doubt herself or her talent, if that’s what past onstage dramas were about. This was a great opportunity to see an amazing songwriter in front of an intimate local audience, and I hope she loved it as much as we did.