Play cat and mouse in a shower of pixie dust, as Cat Power joins alt-rock stalwarts Modest Mouse and the Pixies — three acts that seem just right to mirror our current anxieties, and how fitting for them to be performing on a pier on the edge of our beleaguered country.
When I saw Cat Power (real name Chan Marshall) at the Knitting Factory long ago, she seemed scattered and distraught, at one point stopping in frustration mid–piano chord and wandering among the audience. She’d already declared that the (mediocre) singer who opened for her had “the voice of God.” Lately she’s posted about her sobriety, and her own voice is sounding close to godliness, with its strength and heart. Her 2022 album, Covers, reworks such gems as Jackson Browne’s “These Days” and such chestnuts as “I’ll Be Seeing You.” With cover songs, you have to go to bed with them, mess them up, make them yours — and the person for that job is definitely the one who chose to name herself after a tractor. But I’m also hoping to hear her own songs at Pier 17, like “The Greatest” and “Woman.”
Many of Cat Power’s arrangements evoke a sense of foreboding, but the Pixies plunge us right into the storm — literally, song-wise, in “Thunder and Lightning,” about a downpour in Chinatown, from their latest album, Doggerel (2022). That song speaks of “war in another land,” which applies to just about any time, but 1989’s “Monkey Gone to Heaven” feels prescient with its lyric “everything is gonna burn.” It’s from the seminal album Doolittle, which also gave us the deceptively catchy single “Here Comes Your Man” (“Big shake to the land that’s falling down”). How bracing it will be to hear live this pioneering group’s “loud/quiet/loud” dynamics, said to be born of their dual admiration of Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü. Frontman and primary songwriter Black Francis founded the band, in Boston, with Joey Santiago, whose searing guitar riffs match the singer’s howls and growls; other members are id-unleashed drummer David Lovering and bassist Paz Lenchantin, lending background vocals with a throwaway seductiveness. Will we hear something from Surfer Rosa? Who knows? Pixies don’t need setlists.
Did the Pixies beget Modest Mouse, who coalesced in 1993 in the Pacific Northwest? They were no doubt an important influence. Modest Mouse also sometimes ricochets between ear candy and cacophony, between gloom and Gaia. Like Black Francis, who dips from such sources as the Bible and 18th-century doggerel, frontman/guitarist/banjoist/songwriter Isaac Brock, the band’s only remaining original member, has turned for inspiration to literature — he got the name for the band from this Virginia Woolf phrase: “modest mouse-coloured people.” And Black Francis and Brock both bring to mind Leonard Cohen, in, respectively, “Doggerel” and “Transmitting Receiving.” Modest Mouse’s most recent album, The Golden Casket (2021), as suggested by that last song title, takes on our overreaching technology (according to some MM exegetes, Brock predicted cryptocurrency in his song “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child,” from the 1997 breakthrough album The Lonesome Crowded West), along with our sometimes futile striving (“Wooden Soldiers,” ending with some winsome whistling), our connection to the universe (“We Are Between”), and, unexpectedly, fatherhood, eyes wide open. In “Lace Your Shoes,” the singer tells his child, “I hope there’s still something left for you.” I hope so too. Let us all “Float On” (surely we’ll hear that anthem from Good News for People Who Love Bad News), even as we ask (as the Pixies do): Are we gonna make it? ❖
The Rooftop on Pier 17
Mary Lyn Maiscott, an NYC-based singer-songwriter, has played such clubs as Folk City, Pianos, and Bowery Electric; her latest recordings are “Alithia’s Flowers (Children of Uvalde)” and “My Cousin Sings Harmony.” She’s written about music for Vanity Fair and other publications.