Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
11/18/2018

(Photo: Peter Hutchins)

An unpredictable and always surprising force of nature, nearly everything about Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power—her voice, her lyrics, the construction of her songs—can inspire a twinkle in the eyes of her fans. As a performer, though, she’s a different force, and not always in a good way. While there was a time when her performances were drunken, rambling messes, of which The New Yorker once said, “It is foolhardy to describe a Cat Power event as a concert,” the Marshall of today seems like an entirely different human being. Her famed stage fright, which once was a massive contributor to her messier shows of the past, seems to have all but vanished—or, at least, is now wholly controlled.

For her first Portland show in five years, she may have appeared about 20 minutes later than scheduled, but the difference in confidence was immediately clear the moment Marshall wandered on stage. Carrying incense and a cup of tea, she walked the edge of the platform, waving to the already rapturous crowd before launching into Moon Pix‘s dreamy “He Turns Down,” which set the tone for the evening. For the majority of the banter-less set, Marshall remained wrapped in song and not much else. She’d gesture while singing and wander the stage, but save for a few mouthed thank-yous, she chose to let her songs do the talking, her band filling in the gaps.

As she made her way through covers and tasteful medleys, the crowd did what it very rarely does: it kept its collective mouth shut. Moments of chatter were rare, the audience watching with reverence and then erupting in applause between songs. Enthusiasm rippled through the venue even for new songs from this year’s Wanderer, which were certainly emphasized in the setlist but by no means served as the only focus. Songs like “Woman” and the album’s title track were met with a similar response to old classics like “Cross Bones Style” and “The Moon,” the latter of which was saved for the set closer and was accompanied by a sole guitarist.

Cat Power exuded an unadorned, twinkling energy for most of the evening. The sole spike in momentum came with Sun standout “Manhattan” and Marshall’s cover of “Shivers” by the Boys Next Door. Covers abounded, from “Great Waves” by Moon Pix backing band Dirty Three to her version of Rihanna’s “Stay” from Wanderer to Lana Del Rey’s “White Mustang.”

“It’s good to be back here—thank you for taking me under your wing,” Marshall finally said after she concluded her show with “The Moon.” It marked the only time she would speak during the evening, outside of graciously introducing her bandmates. She thanked the crowd profusely, keeping her message brief and positive, delivering words of gentle support: “Take care of yourselves. Keep your chin up. We got this.” It would ring hollow if almost anyone else gave the same speech, but from Marshall, it feels triumphant.

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