On October 27, 2007 my little red Honda was packed with one large pink luggage bag of clothes and one box of mostly poetry books. Those were the only belongings making the journey with me from Pennsylvania to Texas as I went to excavate a new life for myself. I was also armed with new road music for the trip. Two of those albums were from Cat Power, Dear Sir and What Would the Community Think–two of her earlier ones that I hadn’t entirely heard before. Cat Power basically became the soundtrack as I dove alone halfway across the country; the music of my rebirth. Whether it was listening to somber songs like “King Rides By” through the Georgia countryside or making my way across the New Orleans swamplands to angry ones like “Yesterday is Here,” I was filled with hope and optimism knowing that this trip was the best thing for me. Even though I had quit a promising job and left behind all else that I owned, I was certain that this venture would ease the growing frustration that took over my life. On the outside it looked crazy–moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, a city where I had no place to live or a job waiting. But I didn’t see those things driving through the Texas desert to Austin. As Cat Power’s music blared out of my car stereo all I saw was the prospect of new opportunity. All I saw was beauty.
352 days after I arrived in Austin Chan Marshall (the woman behind Cat Power) walked onto the Stubb’s outside stage and she was all smiles. She waved to the crowd and even shook hands with those at the front. There was a certain confidence about her, something that made her glow and told us that she wasn’t afraid to be standing there. Gone was the shadow of suicidal depression and alcohol abuse. This was the new and improved Cat Power. Even the opening song “I Don’t Blame You” took on a new tone. Now backed by the Dirty Delta Blues Band, the tale of a rock star doomed by fame was transformed from a song of mourning to a more soulful uplifting one of tribute. The best representation of how Cat Power has changed can be heard in the version of “Metal Heart” that appears on the latest album Jukebox. And the performance portrayed that as well. While the original cogitates being restricted by a metal heart, the new version represents the unlocking and being free from it. Seeing Chan reach to the crowd and belting, “Metal heart, you’re not worth a thing,” it couldn’t be any clearer.
From there Chan went into “Song to Bobby.” As the title suggests it’s an ode to Bob Dylan, someone she draws a tremendous influence from. It was fitting that I be there at that time to hear her perform this song. Chan Marshall has become my Dylan. Though the struggle of my first year in here I've been able to throw on any Cat Power album and remember all the hope and optimism that I felt when driving to Austin. I could remind myself that this trip was a necessary step in my evolution. For the last year Chan’s music has constantly replaced my doubts with feelings of pride.
It’s odd that I am able to find strength in Cat Power when those early albums are so somber. Even for this show at Stubb’s Chan ops to focuses on the latest release and clear of older material. Besides the opening song, she only digs as far back as 2006’s The Greatest. About halfway into the show Chan’s collaborator for that album, memphis soul legend Tennie Hodges, joined the Dirty Delta Blues as they perform several songs off it, including “Lived in Bars” and the title track. There was no “Nude as the News” that night, a signature song which was a standard in her live performance; only reassuring that Chan is not revisiting those painful times and living for the present.
The show closed with “Angelitos Negros,” a Roberta Flack cover off the deluxe edition of Jukebox. Sung entirely in Spanish, even Chan had to look at a lyrics sheet to make it through. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful moment to see a piece of her personality on a song that features one of her most amazing vocal performances. There was time when a Cat Power show could not be completed without a manic tangent and Chan bursting into tears. But this one ended with a shower of flowers as she threw carnations into the crowd.
One of these days I would like to meet Ms. Marshall and share my story with her. Let her know what her music means to me. Maybe when she is comfortable enough with herself that she’s able to meet and greet fans, and doesn’t just rush to the tour bus afterword. Obviously there are still some things that she’s working through. Hell, I still worry about how I’m going to make my rent from month to month. But what is life without some struggle? It’s meaningless. And at the end of every personal struggle there lies a beauty. It was on stage that night at Stubb’s.
PHOTOS ARE COURTOSY OF THOSE AT ULTRA8201.