Sad songs sound even better when it rains and the heavens obligingly opened for Cat Power in Santiago the night of July 21.
It’s a shame she’s so popular because Teatro Caupolican was too big for this type of concert. Chan Marshall, who performs and records under the name Cat Power, plays the kind of music that would sound best in a tiny basement cabaret venue where they only serve bourbon and beer and it’s illegal not to smoke.
Her songs are the soundtrack to the final death throes of a bruised alcohol-fueled love affair that neither side can quite finish. She’s the sound of long-term lovers who get drunk together one last time at a late-night lock-in. As the barman polishes the glasses, they raise a toast to a lonely future apart and think back to the time when they adored each other.
With drink, drug and depression problems now behind her, Cat Power may be a force to be reckoned with, but she’s still no great fan of performing live. A beauty by anyone’s standards, she underplayed it in a baggy blue cardigan, black jeans and a preppy pony-tail. Famed for her unpredictable live shows when drunk, now, when sober, she struggles to know what to do with herself. She prefers to let her band take center stage as she self consciously stays to the side and dances as if trying to grind cigarette ash into the carpet.
But oh that voice. It’s like hearing a stoned Marilyn Monroe serenade the President into the ever after. Breathy, rich and mature and totally at odds with her girly awkwardness, you could hear a pin drop as she sang classics like “The Greatest” or a rockier version of barfly anthem “Lived in Bars.” It was one of those gigs where the slightest murmur, text message alert or rustled candy wrapper was met with a barrage of shushes.
With two albums under her belt (The Covers Record in 2000 and Jukebox in 2008), it was no great surprise that she veered from her own material tonight. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “House of the Rising Sun” were slower and sadder than The Stones or The Animals could ever have imagined them, but it was Patsy Cline’s hit “She Got You” that brought out the goose bumps. Tugging at her cardigan in frustration and practically spitting out the lyric “I’ve got your picture, she’s got you,” it was clear here more than ever that this was a woman who had loved and lost.
Two hours after taking the stage and with still no more than a single “muchas gracias” spoken between songs and a few shy smiles, Cat Power left the stage, throwing red roses to her fans as she went.
She’s never going to win awards for her stage presence, but with a voice this good it really is hard to care. For those lucky few who managed to snag a ticket before it sold out, this was definitely the greatest thing to have happened on a rainy winter’s night in Santiago for quite some time.