"I don't blame you..." (Cat Power review, Satellite Ballroom, 14.10.2005)
This was the most disturbing show I've ever seen, and we're just coming off the big Rolling Stones bomb threat show from a week ago. We were given a Cat Power CD a year and a half ago from my hip aunt and it's enjoyed medium rotation in our house since, but our decision to go was more or less based on the "we go see any concert by someone we've heard about" rule...
As the show approached we had been warned by our friend and the internets about her flaky performances. We didn't know what to expect, but the snoozeworthy opening act (Spokane, I ain't linking them 'cause they stink) did a great job cooling down the crowd with their total lack of stage presence (ooooh, we're hiding behind the amps, we're so vulnerable!) and dirge-like melodies that at their best approximated a third-rate Sigur Ros. Mrs. Nevskaya and I found a dry place against the wall and hunkered down cross-legged, chatting and wondering how the hell we were going to see Ms. Power (Chan, pronounced "Shawn") since we were twelve back and everyone there was at least two inches taller than we were.
A stir and applause rises from the crowd, we stand on tiptoes and a catch a mop of blonde hair, and a pleasant murmur with a touch o' Southern drawl rises from the stage. I can't catch the general murmur, but people start sitting down on the floor like a reverse wave, and there she is in her waifish glory. In jeans and a t-shirt, she walks over to the piano bent over and immediately launches into one of her two-chord songs which is ostensibly new yet resembles many songs from the album we have. After eight minutes or so, she peters out, fiddles w/the piano a bit, then goes into her next song. This continues for a half hour or so, song, fiddle, next song. She plays crouched over the piano like Shiny McShine and doesn't give the audience a chance to applaud, and you can tell they're itching to; they finally throw in some cheers when she pauses a little bit. Then she walks off the stage...
...and comes back w/a guitar. Fiddle, fiddle, two-chord song; it's the first time I get to see her face, and she desperately avoids eye contact w/the audience. But she's feeling her oats and belting 'em out, song-fiddle-song (Living Proof stands out, maybe because it was the only one there with an easily recognizable chorus), but then she starts asking the sound tech in the back if he can make her guitar sound "less bright" and "less heavy". I'm guessing they had these conversations before, because my immediate response would be "what the fuck are you talking about?" Suddenly she turns down the volume on the guitar and turns back to the piano.
And so it goes for a while; turn to the piano, song, song, fiddle, song, turn back to the guitar, song, song, fiddle, song, turn to the piano. I'm liking it just fine, but the divide between the enraptured folkies and the chipsters chatting it up in the back became more and more pronounced, and Chan's total lack of patter and soft tunes weren't helping. Finally, some dude from the middle of the floor yells "Shut up!" and I get a little excited at the thought of a fight. Though my sympathies initally lay w/the folkies, I drift towards neutrality when a self-righteous douchebag that was hopefully looking to get laid starts this exchange:
"Did you all buy a ticket just so you could piss people off? Shut up!"
(from the back)"You shut up, asshole!" (slight chuckling)
(non-douchebag folkie)"O'Neill's* is down the street!" (more chuckling)
O'Neill's - an Irish bar popular w/the UVA students
So I was enjoying the crowd tension, but Chan, in one of her piano/guitar exchanges, mutters into a microphone something like "hopefully I can play a song that doesn't piss anyone off" and goes into a nice cover of "House of the Rising Sun". I'm not a yell-in-the-crowd type of guy, but if I could have innocuously slipped her a note to the effect that she shouldn't let the in-crowd posturing affect her, I would have.
And it was at about this point that I noticed (along with my body becoming increasingly numb from the ass down as I fidgeted more trying to get comfortable sitting on the hardwood floor) that Chan herself was becoming more and more fidgety. The fiddling increased, she became more and more uncomfortable in a manner recognizable to anyone who saw Matchstick Men, the guitar/piano switching became more awkward, and she'd stop songs short. The crowd would cheer as a recognizable lick came up but the expected song wouldn't follow. She then started to mutter how she hears the patter "she-she-she-she" echoing in her head. Mrs. Nevskaya turned to me and said "she's making me nervous", and I was trying to psychically advise her by projecting "play 'I Don't Blame You' and say goodnight!" She turned to the piano and started to play it and the crowd erupted into applause (in my case, fueled by relief), but after the first verse she stopped and rolled her right hand down the piano. Some sycophantic "we love you"s came out from the crowd, but she said into the mic "I'm afraid of the KKK, I'm afraid of the KKK, I have to go" and ran off the stage.
As we were walking back to the car, we couldn't help but feel bad, but Mrs. Nevskaya did speculate if there wasn't some element of schtick involved in her antics. The next day I was at our local music shop buying an older CD (using the logic that if she made more money from sales she wouldn't need to do shows) and the clerk, who had also attended the show, told me that some members of her circle were saying they would have been disappointed if she hadn't broke down on stage, so maybe there's something to it.
Assuming it's not a schtick, though, and if you're reading this, hon, take care of yourself down in Asheville tonight, OK?