I finally had my chance to see Cat Power in concert on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 on the first of two nights she had scheduled at the Avalon in Hollywood. I've admired her work from a distance for a few years but heard the legends about her erratic live performances. Lately, after the release of her recent recording of covers, Dark End of the Street, she's been a reliable concert artist and her reputation appears restored. I decided to take a chance.
I came away with a somewhat conflicted reaction to her performance. It's difficult not to be a bit overwhelmed by her remarkable voice, and as she started with The Animals' "The House of the Rising Sun", which fits her persona like a glove, I was quite moved.
Next she launched into Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze" and I just settled in to enjoying this nostalgic trip through the music of my youth. It was a weird feeling to be seeing this contemporary artist interpret some pretty seminal songs. She even covered Joni Mitchell's "Blue".
It was curious to watch Cat Power's stage persona stalking the stage like a "cat". She spends a lot of time standing off in the wings and then prowls to center stage to deliver her signature growls and hoarse crooning. She's electrifying and a little dangerous seeming. But, instead of reminding me of other rock singers, she mostly brought to my mind the fragility of Judy Garland. There's this sense that the whole thing could fall apart at any moment. And a certain apparent desperation.
All this could have added up to a riveting evening, but, alas, after six or seven songs done in an identical style to one another, including her own composition, "Where Is My Love", a wearying sameness crept into the proceedings that kept getting stronger with each song.
I bailed after about 11 numbers, feeling I'd seen it all. I will grant that she is a powerful singer and performer, but I think I would have preferred to see her doing her own material. She seems braver and more daring with her own compositions, instead of forcing a bunch of old songs into a framework that doesn't always fit.
Lastly, I would see Cat Power again if the opportunity arose to see her in as comfortable a space as the Avalon, doing her own stuff. I would not go to the Hollywood Bowl or the Staples Center to see her as I think she thrives in a more intimate surrounding.