By Martin Cizmar
Depending on who you ask, Cat Power is either really good or really bad live. In her younger days, as a notoriously stage-frightened boozehound, Chan Marshall didn’t impress anyone. Now sober and enjoying life, the indie diva mostly gets great write-ups praising her energetic sets and mesmerizing stage presence.
Tuesday’s Marquee show wasn’t particularly good or bad. Mostly, it was odd.
Marshall did bring plenty of energy – slinking around the stage and dancing like a girl at a slumber party – but she also spent an eternity huddled with the soundman between songs. She didn’t say much of anything to the crowd, besides introducing the band, but conspicuously made technical requests for more reverb and less monitor through her microphone.
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As a drawn-out opening interlude gave way to “I Don’t Blame You,” a standout track off 2003’s You Are Free reputed to be about Kurt Cobain, things looked good. Well, they sounded good – they didn’t look like much of anything, as the stage was totally backlit, casting Chan and her band in blue and red shadows as they performed. From 40 feet away, I couldn't tell you which guy had a bass and which guy had a guitar.
That didn’t change – not for an hour and a half, when Marshall came out with the houselights on to toss the crowd T-shirts in lieu of playing a proper encore, did the audience finally get a good look at her. (Turns out her shirt was greenish, not brownish.) At first, I figured this probably had something to do with Marshall’s shyness, but she spent a good portion of her set on the edge of the stage, hovering over the crowd and shaking the occasional hand, so that doesn’t make much sense.
The dim lighting was matched by the song selection. Marshall has always made her exquisitely gruff voice the centerpiece of her sparse arrangements – she doesn’t really sing songs with “refrains” – but this set was too sluggish. Other than Lee Clayton’s “Silver Stallion” the first half of the set was a slog. Things didn’t pick up much until inspired covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” which drew loud applause from an otherwise quiet crowd, and Patsy Cline’s “She's Got You.”
The strength of the show, of course, was the voice. Smoky, dramatic and soulful, Marshall is always a pleasure to listen to, even playing weaker material. She’s actually not hard on the eyes either, though you’d never know it from this show.