The day before Thanksgiving, I was thankful that Cat Power was blessing the beautiful Theatre at Ace with a performance.
The infamous singer-songwriter returned to her roots on her first album in seven years Wanderer. She took many of those songs with her to the wondrous Ace Theatre. Over the years, Chan Marshall has proven to be one of the most unique live musicians out there. Taking the stage in a black dress and waving an incense stick, she continued to confirm the thought.
After kicking off her set with “He Turns Down” from 1998’s Moon Pix, it was clear Marshall was going to traverse her lengthy catalog. She followed with a medley of songs and early on asked that the house lights come down. “Turn that fucking light off, I’m sorry,” she said to laughter.
One of Wanderer‘s standout tracks is “Woman”, rolling into the track after a spoken-word intro. Marshall played the track pretty much as it sounds on the album, and that would be an aberration. Marshall has developed into a bit of a Bob Dylan when it comes to her live show. She likes to play in darkness without cameras on her. And more than anything like Dylan, she likes to rearrange songs completely.
“Metal Heart” sounded nothing at all like it has in two separate versions throughout her career. It is hard to follow and doesn’t have the powerful crescendo of the version from 2008’s Jukebox.
“Manhattan” was the lone song to come from 2012’s Sun, the last album of Marshall’s before Wanderer dropped this year. That album leaned heavy on electronic sounds and was widely panned, but I loved that record. I thought it was underrated and “Manhattan” was an underrated gem of a mid-tempo tune. It carried nicely Wednesday.
One of my favorite Cat Power songs is her version of “Good Woman”, and she thankfully played that one close to the original. It’s one of the most delicate songs she’s ever arranged and it came through that way live. She closed things out with “The Moon”, from her epic 2006 record The Greatest.
Occasionally through her performance, Marshall flashed some of those early career signs that she didn’t want the spotlight. But she powered through and delivered a memorable performance. If you go into seeing her thinking you’ll get replicas of her album cuts, you’ll be disappointed. But if you open your expectations up a bit, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Words by Mark Ortega