Those who came to see Chan Marshall aka Cat Power perform her best-known songs at her sold out show in Portland, Oregon on November 18 may have been disappointed. The mercurial singer has always pursued her career on her own terms, touring sporadically and pursuing new styles of music that are a complete departure from what she is known for. Following a long break from recording after the release of her poppiest album, Sun, in 2012, Marshall recently returned to the spotlight with her new LP Wanderer. The album is a return to her quieter work but also finds her experimenting with some new vocal styles and instrumental arrangements, and in Portland she was eager to share these with her fans.
Backed by a minimal stage setup and a small band, Marshall took the stage wearing a black dress with a cup of tea in one hand and a stick of incense in the other. She smiled shyly at the crowd before going right into the slow and eerie “He Turns Down” off 1998’s Moon Pixie. She then went into a medley of songs that included snippets off her various albums. At this point, the audience stood still, enchanted with her rich, soulful vocals as she dipped into the blues and seemed to use the medley to get loosened up. “Horizon” brought forth a swelling piano and sparse electric guitar, which Marshall complemented by singing into two microphones to create a psychedelic harmonic effect. She would use this throughout the performance, adding a dreaminess and texture to her vocals, as well as sweeping sense of drama that would be used potently on many of the songs off Wanderer. “Pa Pa Power” found Marshall soaring with a simple guitar riff and an ominous chorus that seemed to cut to the heart of our current political state, while the band would get a chance to rock out during the older song “Cross Bones Style”.
Regardless of what some fans may have expected out of Cat Power’s performance in Portland, they were treated to a powerful singer who appeared to be in good spirits. Though Marshall barely acknowledged her audience – she seemed to be almost caught in a trance for much of the night – she let her powerful vocals have the spotlight with no ego on display. As the show wore on she moved across the stage more, swaying and putting more emotional strength into the performance. She did seem to enjoy sharing the songs off Wanderer with the crowd, and most of them carried the kind slinking, enchanting quality Cat Power’s music is known for. Many in the audience would have loved to hear her play songs off albums like The Greatest, but most left the Portland show happy that an artist as talented and one-of-a-kind as Chan Marshall remains to be a creative force.