Image: Cat Power with Mick Turner and Jim White, courtesy of Daniel Boud.
Author: Melody Menu
Cat Power at the Sydney Opera House, Vivid Festival 2018, Thursday May 31
There is a particular understanding between Cat Power fans, of their much-adored singer-songwriter’s habits and idiosyncrasies. If the audience give Chan Marshall the patience and the care to become comfortable onstage, then they will be rewarded with shining, sanguine songs of beauty.
This was reflected in the love that was in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall as Marshall stepped out on stage, and remained even as Marshall stepped back out, disappearing momentarily, to return with setlist in hand. Bathed in the golden glow of the orchestral stands, Marshall and her original Moon Pix collaborators Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirt Three, are completed by a string section and flute, and fellow Australian Ned Collette on piano and guitar who also crafted the arrangements.
At first these composite elements swirled separately around, at times jostling together, at times just touching, before gelling completely as Marshall acclimatised herself to the stage and the performance. Despite a slight re-ordering of tracks, Marshall nevertheless performed valiantly, with her backing band adding a dynamism and energy to the otherwise wistful songs; powerful, proud and free in their nakedness.
Collette’s arrangements were transformative, lending certain songs a greater urgency and weight. ‘No Sense’ swelled with the sound of a single violin solo breaking open, as Jim White’s fluid drum patterns shifted from delicate brushstrokes to thunderous. Mick Turner’s guitar flourishes coupled nicely with the atmosphere of the strings, meeting around Marshall’s warming vocals, like whiskey and honey. With a few stop-starts and strained pauses, ‘Say’ pointed to Marshall’s grace in adversity, offering up the mantra for the night, ‘If you’re looking for something easy, you might as well give it up.’
Concluding Moon Pix with the sombre ‘Peking Saint’, the crowd greeted each encore with gasps and cheers as if each were precious, unexpected gifts. From the gently flowing ‘Maybe Not’ featuring just Marshall on piano, to the slow-burning anthem ‘The Greatest’, Marshall and co delighted the awe-struck and nostalgic crowd, before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
The Opera House has a tendency to weigh upon even the most seasoned performers, the formality and austerity of the World Heritage Building overshadowing every word and every note until the performance is stifled. For Marshall, this performance was fraught for entirely different reasons. However, drinking tea and surrounded by curlicues of cigarette smoke, Cat Power stood strong and resilient; a testament to her longevity in the music industry and her enduring demons, due in part to her strength of character, the delicate yet triumphant nature of her songs, and her resonance with audiences over time.