Cat Power: Shepherds Bush Empire, London. Sunday, January 27

Chan Marshall finally comes swaggering out of her shell.

Cat Power, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, January 27, 2008. Pic : Tom Oxley
The legendarily fragile Cat Power, she of the onstage freak-outs and intoxicated, incoherent mid-song ramblings, is no longer with us. The clouds have cleared both over Shepherds Bush and onstage tonight, as a sober Ms Chan amazes all by shimmying into view, then proceeding to tiptoe, sashay and semi-moonwalk to the soul-spattered beats of her band, The Dirty Delta Blues (featuring members of The Dirty Three and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion). Having finally emerged from the safety of her own fringe, she’s quite the mover.

Working her way through the best part of her new covers album,‘Jukebox’,

Cat Power and her new-found swagger take on, and tear apart, the finest

that Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and James Brown can offer. Songs are turned inside out and melodies unbuckled and stirred with the swampy sounds of the Delta. Her voice is heartfelt and epic, more haunting and less polished than on the record. She makes stormy work of The Highwaymen’s ‘Silver Stallion’ with its ghostly slide guitar, while George Jackson’s ‘Aretha, Sing One For Me’ kicks up more of a soulful vibe complete with explosive organ. Patsy Cline’s ‘She’s Got You’ is delicate yet raw, and makes you wonder why it’s not on the album. ‘Song To Bobby’, her own witty paean to Mr Zimmerman, is charmingly delivered in her best Dylan impression.

The reworking of her own song ‘Metal Heart’, from 1998’s ‘Moon Pix’, is not nearly as heart-wrenching as the original half-whispered apology, but packs a hell of a punch, all crashing piano and drums. It’s met with cries of “We love you, Cat!” from her long-suffering but ever-faithful fans, clearly overjoyed at her new persona after years of willing

her through excruciating shows.

Her unique collision of tenderness and toughness get slightly lost on ‘Jukebox’, but her live show is less slick and far more engaging, helped immeasurably by her new directness. With her twisted crown now perching perilously upon the ’hive of Amy Winehouse, Cat Power’s reign as the Queen Of Crazy is over. Long live the Baroness Of Blues!

Tessa Harris

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