It’s been well documented that in the past, seeing Cat Power live made for a hesitant, erratic, or just downright disappointing gig, at a time when she battled alcohol and other demons. Now, though, as her star has risen and with ever more accomplished albums under her belt, those days, it seems, may have passed.
Still, trying to pin down just who Cat Power is can be tricky. It’s an obvious question when confronted with that pseudonym, but it goes further than simply: Chan Marshall. The former is the artist, the onstage performer; the latter the shy, enigmatic person behind the songs. Then there are the two covers records, where she steps into a dozen songs, inhabiting the characters and perhaps even a sense of the original performers themselves.
Her latest, covers album Jukebox, sees her take on a set of deeply personal songs, backed by new band the Dirty Delta Blues who number The Dirty Three's Jim White among their ranks. Power continues to reveal herself to be a great interpreter, not only of others’ tracks but even, in the case of “Metal Heart”, her own. Her enticing, buttery vocals gilde around each line so that no one song ever sounds quite the same as it does on record.
Contrary as ever, the opening is muted and low-key, with lugubrious versions of B-side “Dreams” and “I Feel”, the band bathed in a dim red light and Power picked out in purple. The pace quickens, but for much of the set they remain cloaked in smoke and shadow, as she prowls the stage, true to her name. She only asks for the lights to go up during a straight-up take on “Song To Bobby”, her emotionally open paean to longtime obsession Bob Dylan.
Set against the country-noir feel of much of the new album, there are also touches of previous album The Greatest. Without the full Memphis Rhythm Band, the Blues men nevertheless storm through Southern soul-man George Jackson’s belter “Aretha, Sing One For Me” and Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You”. The final section is dedicated to tracks from The Greatest, with a rousing segue-way of the title track and “Lived In Bars”. The band have clearly also sought to interpret the songs in a new way, so on “Where Is My Love?”, Jim White’s skittering, nervous drums set a tentative tone, while “The Moon” is augmented with gorgeous keyboard lines.
Power jumps down into the aisles to close with a haunting take on Hank Williams’ “Rambiling (Wo)man”, before returning to give out flowers to members of the audience. There’s no encore, but Cat Power alone onstage feeding back the adoration she’s being given holds a final thrill for the rapt faithful. They rightly adore her - whoever she may be.