Bedford Esquires

The Garage is full of myths and legends about [B]Chan Marshall[/B], about her writing songs to stave off the demons outside her door...

During the fifth song, we get the first glance of an eye. CHAN MARSHALL, CAT POWER‘s turbulent heart, distractedly brushes the safety curtain of hair out of her face, giggles shyly, and stumbles off into a thudding acid blues that eventually reveals itself to be [a]Fleetwood Mac[/a]’s ‘Dreams’. Later she will introduce her guitarist (former SMOG collaborator MARC MOORE) and drummer (THE DIRTY THREE‘s JIM WHITE) at least three times and start numerous songs before they’ve even finished the previous one.

A Cat Power gig in all its frayed, nervy glory is, it’s fair to say, one for the true believers. Judging by the cluster of boys waiting patiently in front of the mic stand she blindly bumps into every other song, though, Chan Marshall is starting to attract plenty of them. Put glibly, she has all the enduring signifiers of the classically ‘kooky’ American boho girl: the full repertoire of quirks and tempestuous emotions destined to pull in the ever-sensitive THROWING MUSES massive, the legions too tasteful for TORI.

The Garage is full of myths and legends about Chan Marshall, about her writing songs to stave off the demons outside her door. About wild tears at soundchecks and utterly shambolic gigs. About how, at a previous gig here, she spent 20 minutes prior to going onstage curled in a foetal ball in the DJ booth. In this context, tonight is something of a triumph. Instead of the woody ‘Astral Weeks’ reveries of their recent fourth album, ‘Moon Pix’, Cat Power are a heavier – if no less fragile – proposition. So ‘American Flag’ is entangled in vicious, coiling riffs that recall Television, and ‘Moonshiner’ becomes even bleaker, a harrowing graveyard chug.

What’s most astonishing, though, and what effectively subverts the eccentric stereotypes, is the measure of control Marshall asserts in the midst of collapse. As the songs pass, it becomes apparent how much she holds in reserve, that the breathtaking vocal swoops she unleashes are all the more potent for their rarity. For ‘Cross Bones Style’, there’s a kind of melodious holler, a righteous croak, an Appalachian SINEAD. By ‘Metal Heart’ she’s soaring above the tense, dense guitars, incredibly strong, quavering a little but nowhere near breaking point. “I once was lost and now I’m found, was blind but now I see”, she sings, stealing from ‘Amazing Grace’, and shakes her hair as if assailed by flying nits. Everything becomes clear eventually: some things take a little longer to come out.