Saturday, August 22, 2009

37. Cat Power "Living Proof" (2006)

I hated Cat Power, completely and viscerally. It's ridiculous that an indie artist should effect such a reaction in anyone, I know. But, nonetheless, I scorned her with pride.

Let me explain.

I saw Cat Power play live in 2002. I was excited to see her, as I enjoyed her album, Moon Pix, and thought the song "Cross Bones Style" was totally awesome.

Things turned grim when Chan took stage that night. She had the theater (a church, actually) turn the stage lights off and turn the house lights on. She could see us, we could barely see her. (I found out later that she had extreme stage fright.)

Things got worse. She started many songs, but finished none. Really, she didn't finish one song. The pieces of songs she did play, she stumbled through. It was a complete mess. The audience fidgeted in the bright lights, but we were all held hostage by the fact that our collective escape would be spotted. So we sat and watched, completely disarmed. It was like a sick psychological experiment.

So, maybe you could understand my hatred.

In 2005, Chan Marshall, like many artists before her (Bob Dylan, the Stones, Dusty Springfield) hired some top-notch studio musicians to record a Southern soul album in Memphis. Something clicked. The studio musicians brought professionalism and constrained Marshall's idiosyncrasies. That album, The Greatest, was, to me, shockingly good. I tried not to admit it.

"Living Proof" is the album's standout. She must have been listening to Dusty in Memphis when she wrote it. The piano hook is simple, but it sticks with you. Marshall's smokey voice, which lacks the range of other singers, emotes in ways that puts others to shame. (This makes her an excellent cover artist, and she typically improves the songs she covers.)

I have been thoroughly won over. Chan, all is forgiven.

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