OAKLAND — When Charlyn Marie “Chan” Marshall, better known as Cat Power, emerged onto the indigo-lit stage at The Fox Theater on Tuesday night, she was almost ghost-like. Her spectral apparition, dressed in a long, flowing black robe seemed to float a little above the stage, lighter than air, as the trio of backing musicians played a lush, chiming melody. When she began to sing, Chan Marshall’s haunting voice and stage presence evoked a sense of loss: time lost, love lost, opportunities lost.
The first few songs were quiet, and Marshall said nothing in the way of an introduction, as if she were still in the midst of materializing before the audience. The backing band sat at the edges of the stage, receding into the darkness at times as Cat Power wandered around, seemingly unaware of the crowd.
The second song, “Song to Bobby,” off 2008’s Jukebox, built upon the sparse rhythm provided by the bass and drums until Cat Power’s voice soared like an uncaged bird above the groove. “Horizon,” off 2018’s Wanderer, grew similarly out of a sparse groove composed of slide guitar and a simple piano riff. “Robbin Hood,” also off Wanderer, featured a slinky rhythm that felt a little like crushed glass beneath the smooth oceanic surface of Chan Marshall’s vocals.
Next Cat Power covered “These Days,” from ’60s ingenue Nico’s 1967 debut album, Chelsea Girl. The song had a beautiful filigreed guitar hook as the band’s pianist handled its bottom end on bass.
Cat Power’s female empowerment anthem, “Woman,” provided a sturdier groove for her to pour her aqueous voice over, and as the song grew in intensity, Marshall’s movements became more frenetic as she sang: “A cage is like a weapon, a tool for me/ You think I’m like the other ones/ Well, my cage is a weapon, it’s perfect for me/ It’s the one suit they seem to not see.”
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Wanderer’s “Me Voy” enacted a similar dynamic, rising from a whisper to a roar as the music perfectly matched Marshall’s growing intensity. On the new album’s title track, the drummer stepped out from behind his kit to play a pair of congas, as the band brought volume level down once again with another slinky guitar and piano groove. Between songs, Marshall flipped through a song book set atop a music stand rather than interacting directly with the crowd. At times, she disappeared into the shadows at the back of the stage.
The second half of the set grew in volume as Chan Marshall played songs from 1996’s Moon Pie, 1998’s Myra Lee and 2006’s The Greatest. The drummer returned to his kit for a trio of more upbeat numbers including “The Greatest” and “Crossbones Style.” When the band tackled “Manhattan,” from 2012’s Sun, the recorded version’s electronica vibe was supplanted by more traditional rock and roll instruments like bass and guitar. Marshall added some vocal yelps and whoops, and the song sounded fresher and more human as a result of the reimagining.
As the band tuned instruments, the room was quiet enough to hear a fan scream, “God, I love you!” at Marshall. The band then launched into the softly chugging guitar riffs of “I Believe in You.” Powerful vocal harmonies spiced up the band’s cover of The Birthday Party’s “Shivers” as green stage lights illuminated Marshall’s silhouette.
“Good Woman” off 2003’s You Are Free, proved to be a crowd favorite as fans grooved to Marshall’s spoken word poetry accompanied by gentle guitar melodies until the drums kicked in and the song shifted into second gear. When Cat Power sang lyrics written from a male perspective, her voice assumed a booming baritone and the audience roared at the playful gender switching.
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Marshall introduced the band before the drummer and guitarist left and the pianist strapped on an electric guitar and accompanied her through a delicate and solemn version of “Moon.”
Having said almost nothing to the crowd throughout the show, at the show’s closing, alone on stage, Marshall thanked fans in an extended monolog for “blessing me and keeping me safe,” implored them to take time to care for themselves, and to “keep your chins up,” before walking off stage to an appreciative roar.
The evening began with a set from Arsun, who performed as a mostly acoustic trio led by 19-year-old Arsun Sorrenti. He explained that this was the band’s first tour and that he and his bandmates had never before played crowds of this size. Sorrenti, clad in a bedazzled and sequined jacket, thanked Cat Power for including them on the tour and Marshall specifically for all of her support which began when Sorrenti sent her a demo tape when he was just 15. Sorrenti managed to embody a youthful amalgamation of Lou Reed, David Bowie and Mick Jagger while singing songs from his three-song debut EP, Send Her My Way as well as a fantastic cover of The Velvet Underground’s “New Age.”
Follow writer David Gill at Twitter.com/songotaku.