Better than: Expected.
Cat Power is unsmoteable. Not Giovanni Ribisi and his potentially Scientologist Welsh supermodel wife, or The Miami New Times‘ “less than stellar” review, or angioedema, or tour bankruptcy, or alcohol could get in the way of last night’s performance at Terminal 5. Maybe her show was just another peak in a long and tired history of onstage peaks and troughs, or maybe we were all so happy to see her in an obviously better place that we ignored her impromptu drum solo that kind of ruined the end of “Ruin.” But when she waved at the audience through the bright lights of “Nothin’ But Time,” tanned and squinting, she looked like a newly re-born animal whose psychological well being we, the audience, were literally responsible for. In that moment, it was easy to forget that things could have–and actually have, many times–gone much worse.
SISU opened with a bit of a Blonde Redhead vibe, probably because two handsome men playing bass and guitar flanked vocalist Sandra Vu (who also drums for Dum Dum Girls). The five-piece (whose closest related artist on Spotify is, incidentally and weirdly enough for an aside, 1930s electronic pioneer Vladimir Ussachevsky) beguiled with cleanly executed guitar jabs in the direction of New Order with asides to viscous interpretations of Smiths-ian shoegaze. Which is to say, they sounded properly schooled in who they were trying to sound like, and overall they came out on just the right side of derivative. “They Die,” for prime example, is suffused with the golden light of La Folie-era the Stranglers that’s been lightly burned around the edges.
In a non sequitur from the previous act but in keeping with Cat Power’s tendency to open her shows with female rappers (e.g. Addiquit), Angel Haze took the stage next. For the benefit of those in the audience who only heard of Angel Haze when she appeared on a Ryan Hemsworth’s remix of “Manhattan,” the New York rapper born Raykeea Wilson enlightened them. “I’m sort of known as the up-and-coming female rapper,” she said. “I’m known for my real-time rapping.” Wilson then rattled through “Werkin’ Girls,” folding into herself behind a curtain of hair. Except for a few moments when she let loose an arm or two to gesticulate, Angel Haze’s stage presence was unostentatious to the point of almost self-deprecating (that is, until she said things like, “I’m living proof that you can do whatever the fuck you want”). “This next song is a joke,” she said by way of introduction to “Gossip Folks,” on which she rides the beat from Missy Elliott’s 2003 track of the same title.
The room’s tension definitely ramped up after Angel Haze’s short set. Eventually, though, the lights went down and Cat Power’s backing band wound up with a slight guitar line that seemed to bring Chan Marshall out of the shadows. She had let her Mohawk grow out–no photographs were allowed during the set, so please bear with textual descriptors–but her hair was still short and bleached-blond, with darkly imperious eyebrows that arched over the back of the room. If you’ve never heard it before (I hadn’t), Marshall’s voice in person is only slightly less burnished than on record, not necessarily always the magnificent, ineffable thing I had been expecting. It was also difficult to hear contours and nuances due to Sun’s stickier beats (“Sun”), vocal distortion (“Silent Machine”), and the simple fact that her voice was often sunk low in the mix (“Cherokee” and “Human Being”). When you could hear it above everything else, however, on older piano-driven cuts like “I Don’t Blame You” or “Bully,” it rose in her throat raw and untrammeled, transfixing everyone enough to shush themselves.
Marshall indulged in little to no stage banter except for the odd “thank you,” as in, “I’m a grown-ass adult and I want to thank you for coming.” The background images–a pixilated gorilla during “Always On My Own,” kids loitering on a desert highway before a cop car arrives, interpolated images of people seemingly from the far-off places named in “Ruin”–appeared carefully curated, as though meant to bolster Cat Power’s strength of character and willpower with hieroglyphics of Egyptian goddesses. On the back of her denim shirt, Marshall bore the symbol of a diamond with a line drawn through it, which reappeared on the T-shirts she flung over her shoulder at audience members during the last strains of set closer “Ruin.” And then, with fitting quirkiness, the house lights came up and “New God Flow” played over Marshall crouched, drinking from a water bottle, in a corner of the stage.
Overheard: “I love Cat Power, like, so much.”
Random Notebook Dump: For once, Angel Haze was not bearing her midriff.
Critical Bias: I’m ashamed to say that at the beginning of the concert, the possibility of schadenfreude got the better of me and I posed a bet as to whether Cat Power would make it through her set. No money exchanged hands during the writing of this article.
King Rides By
Always On My Own
Nothin’ But Time
I Don’t Blame You
Peace And Love