The JazzFest Chronicles – 1. We need to talk about Cat Power

If photographers are not allowed in, does it means that it did not happen?

We all have an act it is impossible for us to be unbiased, it starts we a deep-rooted love, often from a decade or more long affair, incommensurable emotions that rose from tender and vulnerable teenage years with heavy memories attached, an almost-cult worship. Adoration. Veneration. Who ever you feel this for, you must know the feeling.

Thus, Cat Power. The woman who, through her life spent singing, taught me that if you could be yourself, to always be yourself. That you could write about all of these deeply personal stories, about emotions and people, and then you could sing about them. And best of all; people would relate. She also taught me that you could ditch superfluous orchestration, elaborate chord progressions, that you could transform melodies to suit your mood and offer only the core, the heart, the stripped, the bare. That you could be terrified, always terrified and yet make it. All my young years, I wanted to be Cat Power. After seeing her in concert for the second time (she came to Montreal in 2012), I still do.

It’s been known and documented that Cat Power has a long history of erratic performances due to stage fright and alcohol-abuse. Her live performance are notoriously unpredictable (just like Lauryn Hill’s are) but I’m always left wondering if live inconsistency is a stroke of genius? The phenomena that is her performances stand as the divinely sublime vision. They transcend you, like only holy figure of sincerity and vulnerability and selflessness can. They are transformative, inspirational experiences.

Her last album, Sun, a sixth record in a long, and prolific career, came out in 2012. Chan Marshall presented herself as no longer being sad, leaving behind the melancholic and heart-rending ballads to rather embrace all types of upbeat elements. It was an immense departure, from spleen-tinted universe the singer-songwriter make a signature from since her rise to prominence in 1998. The singer with the smoky voice always sounded sad, without desperation, as if that was her gift. When she stopped in Montreal touring for Sun, her face, then bared with a new look, bleached short hair, gave it all away, despite the mood of the songs. Sad.  Although it had some unforgettable and pure grace, the concert was not great.It was an erratic one. I read later that she cancelled the end of the tour.

Cat Power only knows how to be Cat Power. She has no ability to fake anything — her helplessness is almost unbearable for the audience. Through that lack of defense, she is paradoxically vibrant with authenticity. She is standing alone, guitar in hands, and her inimitable vocal delivery fill the place. Delightfully haunting, perfectly on pitch, dramatic and soothing as we never knew she could be, this voice we can never get enough of. At 44 years-old, back to her signature she sounds better than ever. The woman is intact, incarnating her very own character.

Cat Power played a long set. She wouldn’t take breaks between songs, knocking them back to back like a chainsmoker, so many songs from her most-know albums, and believably some new titles. Was it a trick to defeat nervousness — the less interaction, the less fright ?  “I’m so scared’’, we heard her mutter. Overwhelmed with apparent nervousness, and she did excuse herself several times like a broken record, for fumbling or coughing, which truly were unnoticeable blunders through her more than stellar performance. She rambled the most endearing whispers. As nothing could prepare for the fragility that beset her during her performance, all eyes were constantly glued on her, the room remained silent except when to connect with her. Nevertheless, the crowd cheered and cheered again their love. She responded with a disarming genuineness. And she sang, and sang again, shifting from the piano to the guitar as if the night had no end. A singer-goddess, she sings for her own salvation but for us too.

Like only she knows how to, Cat Power interpreted her extensive repertoire without a single title sounding as the did on record. Here is her other other secret weapon, this incredible talent for deconstructing songs and making the most astounding covers; it is even more impressive when she does it here with her very own songs, tenfold the beauty of it. Doing so, she brilliantly master the art of making a song alive through four, three, two and even one chord (wasn’t this technique invented by her, anyway? I’m exaggerating, but it’s as if). And this is why we go see our artists live, to get a different perspective on their songs.

Cat Power endlessly thanked the crowd for being here, looking yet again dead sincere, and she left giving no encore. At this point, she is simply being a myth – the mythical, disconcerting, genuine the is Cat Power. It was beyond moving. We were allowed to catch the best of her, and a glimpse of the worse as well: the universe of the unique-minded, oversensitive and tortured soul of the artist. There is beauty in the madness, that’s for sure. Will all be remembering this one for a long time, that’s for sure. I don’t know how much I have matured since 2012, but I did not cry copiously this time.

***

Cat Power had a baby. I read it on her personal Instagram account before the news was shared by music news website in April of last year. The ever private songstress revealed the news as a side-note in the wake of Baltimore’s protest following the death of Freddie Gray. As much distress I felt from the tragedy, I felt absolutely moved by the news by Cat Power’s non-announcement like any celebrity news ever resonated with me before. She may not be the mother to us all, but Cat Power is my very own music mother. ‘’When she walked on stage, I fell in love with her perfect soft mother vibe, melancholic and magnificent’’, said a friend who was not yet familiar with this artist. Maybe this one things that has changed. Maybe it is not. But that made me very happy.

Cat Power as I saw her in 2012 through my lens:

Cat Power

Cat power 1

Cat power 3

About Christelle Saint-Julien

Professional writer and translator based in Montreal, Christelle compiles projects on project such as brainchild Naked Underground Montreal, literary collective Le Shindig, music, arts and sharing her passion for local culture.

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