Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Friday, April 28, 2006

#25 - Cat Power, and another comeback

“Hate (Pocket Mix)” – Cat Power

Cat Power was astonishing at Town Hall last night. Awe-inspiring. Possibly life-changing. Really. I mean, if Chan Marshall---the name behind the moniker---can actually get through an entire show, more or less, without breaking down and running off stage midset (she did sneak off during one song, but it seemed planned), then what right do any of us have to fail?

Her album, The Greatest, is about someone who used to have high aspirations but has been beaten down by life. By the record’s end, having struggled through her darkest hours, she comes out the other end, not with any bogus salvation but with the simple reassurance that human contact, love and communication, might save her.

Her concert at Town Hall in New York City the other night was a similar display of struggle, like any Cat Power show. Nearly every song teetered on the brink of collapse, both in terms of their fragile construction and Marshall’s performance. Her history adds to this: she is known for her inability to finish a show without being overwhelmed by self-consciousness and being unable to continue. I personally have seen fourteen Cat Power shows, and every one (last night’s excepted) ended abruptly; at one she curled up in fetal position onstage until her band gave up and left her there, exasperated. At another she literally ran off stage, into the audience, and out the theater door into the street.

Tonight she had a huge backing group, The Memphis Rhythm Band, which included a horn section, a string section, and an awesome old soul guitarist---Teenie Hodges---who played with Al Green on all his classic early-to-mid Seventies stuff. It seemed impossible that she could collapse with such a huge ensemble behind her, in a venue like Town Hall, in her home town.

And yet. She was fidgety and seemed disoriented during the first few songs. The friends I came with left early, figuring they’d cut their losses.

But she pulled it off. Sure, she squirmed like an autistic child and did silly little mime and dance moves during her most pathos-gripped songs. (I confess I closed my eyes at some points because she distracted me from the pure sadness of the music.) And she did leave stage during “Where Is My Love,” leaving her background singers to vamp, which they did for what seemed like 10 minutes. But she came back before the song ended, having changed from her flouncy little black dress to an elegant white strapless flapper number with fringe at the bottom. She did “Love and Communication” and the band ---- relatively speaking, but still --- roared. She started singing, then wailing ‘I LOVE YOU’ over the wave-like crashing of the songs final chords----whether to the song’s subject, her band, her friends in the audience, or all the above was unknowable. And when the song ended, even her bandmates, looking like family members at a clinic on discharge day, seemed astonished that she pulled through.

But the most beautiful moment was the encore, where she came out to play “I Don’t Blame You,” the lead track from what’s probably still her best record, You Are Free, though The Greatest comes close. The lyrics talk about a performer, probably Kurt Cobain, who just couldn’t survive fame’s emotional blast furnace, and how Marshall, or her character in the song, anyway, doesn’t blame him. She sang it alone, in a trance, at a huge grand piano. And when she finished, she faced the audience like a military cadet and gave a small salute, as if she had just completed a taxing frontline tour of duty (she had, in a sense), but didn’t want to make too much of it. Then she turned on her barefoot heel, wiggled her ass like a burlesque girl, and walked offstage.

Anyway, back to the world outside the concert hall.

My Dad died last week. My Mom is kicking me out of the house, and I’ve got 99 more problems (to quote Jay-Z, the most annoying MC in hip-hop) that have been weighing me down. So much so, I’d abandoned this blog months ago. I just couldn’t bring myself to write. But last night Chan Marshall, by example, inspired me to get over myself and get back to work. Like Sisyphus, it’s all I got, baby.

Above, a version of “Hate,” from The Greatest, remixed without authorization by Richard, the inspired dude behind Pocket Mixes. His modus operandi is often to take a sad song and make it---well, if not necessarily better, then beautiful in a different, dub-and-disco-loving way. His remixes always have a sense of the celebratory, and I feel like celebrating today. Because while my life might be falling apart, I’ve at least revived Loose Strife, which suggests anything might be possible.

PS (added a few days after the above was posted) – I didn’t know it at the time, but the above post was written on April 28---a year to the day since I began this blog, and the day I had pledged to “finish” it. Of course, I failed to keep my original pledge to keep it going for a full year. So every ending is a new beginning, and every failure an opportunity. Right?

Thanks, Chan. And as always, thank you for reading, whoever you are.


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