Sahan Jayasuriya
Chan Marshall’s Sonic Explorations

Cat Power at Turner Hall

Touring in support of new album "Sun," Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) brought a variety of styles to the Turner Hall stage on Monday night.

By - Oct 30th, 2012 04:14 pm
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Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, at Turner Hall Ballroom. (All photos: CJ Foeckler)

Since her last visit to Milwaukee, Cat Power aka Chan Marshall has reinvented herself musically a few times, dabbling in everything from classic country to vintage soul. These both were a far cry from the stripped-down, heartbroken indie rock that she is best known for, and it soon became apparent that Marshall wasn’t going to settle on one particular sound. While this decision may have no doubt alienated some die hards, Marshall has continued to explore new territory while revisiting older sounds as well, doing both on her latest album, 2012’s Sun. Her appearance at Turner Hall Ballroom on Monday evening was an extension of her sonic explorations.

A bleach blonde mohawk-clad Marshall and her band took to the stage, opening the set with the Sun album opener “Cherokee.” “Bury me, marry me to the sky,” she sang, laying her delicate voice over a dense foundation of synths, guitars and pulsing percusion. In a live setting, Marshall’s voice bears nearly every characteristic found on recording. And while she spent much of the evening struggling with a cough (Evan Rytlewski-your “cough power” tweet was brilliant), it seemed to have very little effect on her performance.

The set was comprised primarily of tracks from her new album, which, in a sense, is something of a modern pop album. Sun features Marshall’s most electronically-based material, an album filled with synths, programming and yes, even Auto-Tune. Where the effect is often used as a crutch for less-than-gifted vocalists, Marshall puts it side-by-side with her unaffected voice, using it more like another instrument. Marshall and her band did a fine job of replicating the new album’s deep grooves.

While Sun treads new sonic territory, its lyrics and overall tone recall a familiar mood, previously explored on earlier releases like What Would the Community Think and Moon Pix. The difference here, however, is while the former present love and relationships from a more fragile and wounded perspective, Sun is more angry and empowered. The variety of styles was appropriately reflected in the show’s overall energy and production.

Songs like “Human Being” and the Shirley Ellis homage “3,6,9” were given a full stage show treatment, the venue illuminated by a giant fluorescent arc with video footage projected behind the band. Older tunes like “King Rides By” from Community were given a bit of a stylistic makeover, appropriately fitting in amongst the more grooved out tracks from Sun. Other moments were much more intimate, like the new song “Bully,” which found Marshall singing with a single spotlight shining on her while her guitarist accompanied her with modesty and grace. It was then that I almost forgot that I was watching her at Turner Hall. Her delicate vocal delivery transformed Turner into a venue a third of its size.

Although the set jumped around stylistically, it maintained a consistent mood, and the variety was just enough to keep things interesting. It was great hearing reworkings of favorites like “The Greatest,” “I Don’t Blame You” and “Angelitos Negros.” For an artist who’s music is as serious as Marshall’s, it was refreshing to see her not take herself too seriously, her goofy remarks and shy charm finding their way in between songs. The set’s end was highlighted by Marshall throwing setlists—and in a very Morrissey-esque move, white roses—into the audience (they’re no magnolias, but I’ll leave those for the Mozzer, or Marc Solheim for that matter). She even managed to sign a few autographs from the stage, which was hilarious and effortlessly cool at the same time.

While I still find it hard to believe that its really been ten years since the last Milwaukee Cat Power show, I also have a hard time believing that it’s been nearly as long since Fugazi’s hiatus, the release of Is This It? and Elliott Smith’s death. That aside, a word to Ms. Marshall: please don’t take another ten years to come back to Milwaukee. I understand that some people may not always love you, but I can assure you that Milwaukee does, and (as long as you don’t collaborate with Skrillex) always will.

Categories: Life & Leisure, Rock

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