tue 23/07/2024

Cat Power, St John-at-Hackney Church | reviews, news & interviews

Cat Power, St John-at-Hackney Church

Cat Power, St John-at-Hackney Church

Erratic indie singer shines though her nerves

Chan Marshall aka Cat Power: spectral yet soulful

On record, Cat aka Chan Marshall is the quintessence of hip. From art-rock to blues, her vocals are cool and effortless. Live, however, things have been notoriously inconsistent. Google “Cat Power live”, and you will find a catalogue of stage meltdowns. Even her Wikipedia entry tells tales of drunken rants and abuse of fans. And yet for every gig disaster, there’s another rave review.

When it comes to a Chan Marshall gig, it seems you pays your money and you takes your chances. 

As I queue up outside the huge Victorian St John-at-Hackney Church the moon is shining and fans are chatting in lowered voices. No-one quite knows what to expect. Certainly not support band Appaloosa who are now taking to the stage. It is an unusual act consisting simply of Anne-Laure Keib – a French/German singer friend of Cat's – and a laptop. Keib sounds a bit like like Nico performing Soft Cell numbers. After two or three songs it starts to grow on you but half an hour is long enough. 

The atmosphere in the room is tense as Cat announces she's nervous as hell

At 9.10pm Marshall arrives on stage, almost on time. Even though she's silhouetted by powerful backlights, you can immediately see her recent blonde crop has been replaced by a longer brunette look. It makes her seem softer. Still, the atmosphere in the room is tense as Cat announces both that she's had a baby, and that she's nervous as hell. Then, as if to calm herself, she launches into five consecutive songs. They're played solo – there's no band tonight – and with no gaps.

Their mood is also thick and gothic, matching her black outfit. “Old Detroit” gives way to “Satisfaction”, then it's on through “Fool” and “Hate” to “Great Expectations”. Double microphones thicken Marshall's ghostly voice, which fills the room with eerie, spectral sounds. The crowd sits in silent reverence, willing her on. Then, after the last note, a smile lights up her face. Cat walks to the piano and picks up a mug that has just been brought in. “A cuppa!” she exclaims, followed by “thank you for coming.” 

As she sits down at the keyboard she appears less self-conscious and plays for the next hour plays almost if there was no-one around. There are improvised moments of jazz and classical and a series of spontaneous covers. But first there is “Color and the Kids”, whose lyrics juxtapose a simple moment of childish innocence with life’s sadness. It's an emotional climax, bringing a gulp to many a throat. Cat’s voice, however, reaches its technical peak on a slow, soulful reading of Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness”, followed by an aching version of Otis Redding’s “Remember Me”. 

After an hour an a quarter on stage, Marshall starts to realise how well it's all going. As she straps on her guitar for the last section she banters about her recent gig in Manchester in a series of bad regional accents. She now really seems at ease. Then comes her most spellbinding song of the night. Looking up at the moonlight shining through the window, she smiles and sings “The moon is not only beautiful / It is so far away... When they put me six feet underground / will you still be around?”

It’s almost time to go. There will be no encores but one fan shouts out for “Moonshiner”. At first Marshall seems confused. She screws up her face pensively and then obliges with a half-remembered a cappella version. As she turns to leave the stage, she double-backs for a final thought. “Thank you for letting me be who I am," she says with a sincere Southern twang. The crowd's response is an ovation full of warmth and relief.

Overleaf: Cat Power performing 'The Greatest' on Later ...with Jools Holland




Marshall's ghostly voice fills the room with eerie, spectral sounds


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters