About 10 years ago I developed quite an obsession with Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall, and in particular her album You Are Free. By no means had I stumbled across a new breaking artist, this was already her 6th studio album, but this album opened up a new world of sounds to me.
It featured guest appearances from Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder and Australia’s own Warren Ellis of the Dirty Three (and later The Bad Seeds). All from bands much closer to my listening style at the time. However You Are Free went in a whole new direction for me musically, and to this day I think it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful, minimalistic and emotive albums I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Marshall’s erratic stage performances and unusual professional behavious has been well documented, so it is probably no surprise that in the years that have passed I have never managed to see her live. And even this current show was the second attempt after we bought tickets for the same show earlier in the year, only for the tour to be cancelled, our tickets refunded and then a new tour re-announced several months later.
By the night the show came around my feelings were a little mixed. The countless stories I have read kept my expectations pretty low but my deep love (read obsession) of some of her songs had me hoping for something really special. And I figured it could be a memorable night one way or the other, depending on which Cat Power we got to see.
Adding to the mix on the night was my youngest sister who was in town with a friend, their first ever time in Amsterdam. So what better introduction than a night out at the Paradiso? Given she was only about 8 when You Are Free came out, she obviously didn’t share my love for it, but I had hoped it wouldn’t be too much of a train wreck for her either!
The night started great, with another Amsterdam institution introduced to the young Australian ladies. The steak was perfect at De Zotte, as was the beer. And we pretty much missed the entire support act, Marten de Paepe. Sorry Marten.
Ms Power hit the stage on time and seemed in a relatively relaxed frame of mind, kicking off with The Greatest, from the album of the same name. The next 4 songs were all from Sun, her latest album, and with 5 more to come after that, she managed to play 9 of the 11 songs from the album.
Given the relatively short set (just over an hour), with no encore, I have to say I was more than a little disappointed that 2/3rds of the show was effectively selling the new album. I can understand a bands agenda and that they are the songs they want to play, but I would argue she could have kept them on the set-list and thrown in another 20 minutes of older material and the punters would have been a lot more happy.
Sadly, from the 6 songs that were not from the new album, only one was from Are You Free – I Don’t Blame You. Admittedly this is one of, but not the, best songs off that album. Reportedly her song to Kurt Cobain after his death, relating to his fragile stage temperament and general misunderstanding of his ‘fans’ about his songs. The irony of the opening verses line about not wanting to play what the crowd wanted to hear not being lost on me -
Last time I saw you, you were on stage,
Your hair was wild, your eyes were red
and you were in a rage,
You were swinging your guitar around.
Cause they wanted to hear that sound
But you didn't want to play.
And I don't blame you.
She also threw in 3 cover songs, the highlight being a version of Angelitos Negros, a beautiful song in Spanish originally made famous by Roberta Flack. Shivers, by Aussie band The Boys Next Door was also good to hear.
All in all it was an enjoyable night albeit a disappointing performance, and while I might not remember the show in the way that I was hoping, it didn’t take away from any of my previous feelings toward Cat Power or her music. Add to the mix that Emma and Alex got to experience the Amsterdam double-shot of De Zotte and Paradiso, and it was a pretty good night out.