Cat Power at Islington Assembly Hall: ‘her musical soliloquies could draw tears from a statue’

Cat Power. Picture: Richard Gray

Cat Power. Picture: Richard Gray - Credit: EMPICS Entertainment

In a world though where it increasingly feels as though artifice and career-goals have taken precedence over authenticity, her stock offers increasing value

Most artists like to start a show with fanfare. But then again, if history has shown us one thing, it is that Cat Power is not most artists. She does things her own way.

Save for two festival slots, it is almost 18 months since the mercurial Power – aka Chan Marshall - visited these shores. In what is now the longest break between records, it is also approaching five years since the release of her last album Sun. Whilst she has become a mother to a young boy in the intervening period, the mind now wonders whether this mini tour could signal a fresh flush of activity.

She enters the stage at the Islington Assembly Hall modestly with the lights undimmed and warm-up tape still playing. After dabbling with a peroxide crop, her trademark long brown hair is back. Unassuming and visibly nervous, she pulls the guitar from the stand and her fingers etch out a droning, single E major-chord dirge. It’s an entrance that even Sigur Ros would find a little subdued.

Power proceeds to exhume her back catalogue. Despatching with her cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ early, her husky yelp cries out repeatedly like a soul that’s been excised from the body, kneeling at the floor in supplication. She sits herself at the piano and picks out the delicate melody of ‘Names’ and segues one song into the next with barely a pause for breath, constructing a makeshift song-cycle medley of her own material that feels as though executed on the fly; loose, ragged and barely kept on the tracks.

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Never one to shy away from autobiographical detail - she is no Alex Turner or Jarvis Cocker in this regard - such soul-bearing staples as ‘I Don’t Blame You’ (widely regarded as a music-set letter of sympathy to Kurt Cobain) and ‘Good Woman nestle alongside kiss-offs like ‘Metal Heart’ from Moon Pix.

Her live shows are famed for their inconsistency. Words such as ‘erratic’ and ‘volatile’ cling to her, and if Forrest Gump had a box of Cat Power live shows instead of chocolates, his most famous observation would still ring sagely true.

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Make no mistake; this is a version of Marshall at her most uncompromising - a show for the fans. She offers ‘Hate’ with its vitriol poured forlornly in the author’s direction and ‘3, 6, 9’’s dark missives dressed in an upbeat piano march. But that’s fine. This is no festival gig and the impression is given that she would play this set to an empty room if she had to. And yet, whilst she might be on song, she is also slightly off key. Cutting a haunted figure, the relentless, slow, stately pace occasionally makes for difficult viewing.

In a world though where it increasingly feels as though artifice and career-goals have taken precedence over authenticity, however, her stock offers increasing value. On occasions this evening, her musical soliloquies pack a punch that could draw tears from a statue.

The Cat Power live experience might be unpredictable, variable and testing, but it’s also truly one of a kind.

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