January 9, 2009
It’s with awkward anticipation that I venture by train from Sydney to Newcastle to catch Cat Power. I’m excited, because the husky cover versions that have dominated Chan Marshall’s most recent set lists are sublime, intelligent reinterpretations of some of my favourite songs. But I’m also nervous, because the last time I saw her perform in Sydney a little more than four years ago, the singer was at the peak of a much publicised breakdown. Frail and tormented she stopped and started her way through songs, nervously muttered in between and spent the whole performance (which was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking) looking distinctly like she wanted to be somewhere else. I spent the night in awe of her talent and mesmerised by her vulnerability but also feeling like a pervert, indulging in the sadness of a stranger.
This time around, Cat Power is thankfully joined by the talented, charming and too-cool-for school four-piece the Dirty Delta Blues. With Jim White from The Dirty Three on drums, and Judah Bauer from Blues Explosion on guitar, the once solo songstress seems more relaxed as she delivers her opening song, a breathy cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Her vocals are divine, she smiles nervously at the besotted audience, it’s a promising start. And from there, the Southern belle of down and out indie folk doesn’t disappoint. She’s charming, shy and effortlessly sexy, no more so than when she breaks into her version of the Lee Clayton classic ‘Silver Stallion’. As a devotee of Outlaw Country, The Highwaymen version of this song is pretty erotic to my ears. But when Cat Power drawls over the lines “just a touch of sadness in his fingers/ thunder and lightning in his thighs” it as though the whole room is a quivering pre-orgasmic mess.
Overall, the show is an engaging and endearing performance of cover versions, peppered with originals. She wraps up the gig with a bluesy version of ‘I Don’t Blame You’ from 2003’s You Are Free. The song is almost unrecognisable now it has been given the full treatment by band, and makes the perfect end to the evening. It is still unmistakeably Cat Power but like the songstress herself, a little bit stronger and a little more mature.