Cat Power/Her Space Holiday : San Francisco Great American Music Hall

Tonight feels like a particularly toe-curling 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?'...

Welcome to the Night Of The Undecipherable Lyric. To be fair to Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, she’s not feeling well – a spot of “pneumonic infection”, she tells us. It renders her trademark whoops, sighs and other wacky vocal inflections into whispers. And to be fair to Her Space Holiday, the audience of Cat lovers is not giving them a dog’s chance.

Local resident Marc Bianchi has been noodling around as HSH for a few years now. He doesn’t seem bothered that the crowd is indulging in several hundred shouted conversations, making his already delicate vocals almost completely inaudible. Accompanied by a female keyboard player, he stoops, twiddles, adjusts and squints like a man putting up the Christmas tree lights, occasionally breaking into a ‘Loaded’-style groove around his bedroom. The fab ‘Home Is Where You Hang Yourself’, is the UK single. They don’t play it tonight, but it would sound great in your bedroom.

The crowd knows all about Cat Power’s stage fright and shuts right up as she emerges onto a dark stage. A black mop of hair only just reveals her chin. The mic stand is set up on the side of the stage, as if for an ugly bass player. Tentatively testing the flu-ravaged voice over the first few songs, she fidgets at her guitar. The recent ‘Covers Album’ is a selection of mostly familiar tunes, deconstructed into epic, brooding ex-songs. So tonight feels like a particularly toe-curling ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ Sing these songs in the style of…a suicidal actress serenading a president while kooked out on cold medicine. ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, ‘Wonderwall’ – it’s as tedious as it sounds.

Michael Hurley’s ‘Troubled Waters’ is more obscure, and as tortured as folk songs get. It deserves more than three audible lines, but that is about average for the evening. Her own songs suffer even more. Grateful for the cover of a grand piano, Marshall drifts in and out of ‘Hard Times In New York City’, as heard on this year’s Peel Session.

Eventually she climbs down from the stage, setting up in the front row to sing ‘King Rides By’ (from 1996’s ‘What Would The Community Think?’), as a deathly silent audience stares at an empty black stage. Hands up if you’d rather have gone to the Madonna show.

Andy Wilkinson