Dublin Whelans

Sometimes the music is completely unrecognisable...

After about five songs, Chan Marshall (aka Catpower) breaks the silence, giggles, and asks “Guess how many chords I know? I know five chords.” The audience, somewhat exasperated by Chan‘s curious behaviour, duly, nervously join in the laughter. See, Chan doesn’t like playing live. And, if you’re to take what she says literally, she doesn’t particularly like playing music, which leaves everyone, including herself, in an unusual position.

Her appeal is unquestionable; a quiescent, cherubic voice cut with the crackle of cigarettes, and a bare, instinctively stripped-down folk vision of the songs she chooses to interpret on her recently released ‘The Covers Record’. She barely allows silence or the opportunity for applause to fracture her set, as she segues every song together – The Stones‘Satisfaction’, ageing folk genius Michael Hurley‘s ‘The Devil’s Daughter’, her own ‘Moonshiner’ – with quietly chuggin’ Lou Reed-style chord repetition.

Chan looks like she’s walked off the set of ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and straight into CBGBs; all long, severely straight Ramones-style hair, her fringe deliberately combed over her eyes to prevent any emotional contact with the admiring indie-boys upfront, and shielding her perfect, untainted ’70s southern girl face from the leering, blinding intrusion of flash-photography.

Sometimes the music is completely unrecognisable, as she ponderously fingers a route from one song to another. The more she does this, the more fidgety and anxious the audience become. Without the Dirty Three rhythm section to back her up this time around, she looks vulnerable, constantly manoeuvring her mic stand around the stage in a search for new space. By the time she fumbles her way through a shambolic take on the Velvets‘I Found A Reason’, her admirers are bursting with a build-up of applause, which they finally unleash with great relief. And despite her sometimes bewitching, sometimes perplexing performance, Cat Power‘s relief is to leave the stage.