The Distance Between Then and Now

October 24th, 2012

Cat Power – Hammerstein Ballroom – October 23, 2012

As Chan Marshall, the singer known as Cat Power, performed the title song from her new record, Sun, at the start of her show at the Hammerstein Ballroom last night, a fiery, blazing orb slowly grew on the huge video screen behind the band, the celestial body becoming larger and more imposing as the song built. This intense imagery was perhaps emblematic of the evening of music to come, songs that burned slowly and powerfully with Marshall’s deeply felt delivery.

Cat Power’s new record is a departure from the folk- and blues-leaning songs that defined her last few albums, and it incorporates some subtle electronic elements into danceable songs about matters both cosmic and personal. Having also supplanted her trademark long brown locks for a short bleached-blonde coiffure of late, Power, perhaps, appears to be emphasizing the distance between then and now. Indeed, it is unlikely that multicolored strobe lights would have seemed an appropriate accompaniment to any Cat Power songs prior to this tour—but they fit right in on “Manhattan,” “Silent Machine” and “Ruin.” Alongside her new material, Power also offered reworked versions of some older songs including “The Greatest” and “I Don’t Blame You,” in both cases, lingering over a slowed-down opening before powerfully building to a climax with added force thanks to the band’s two drummers.

During the closing song, Marshall’s cover of “Ramblin’ Man” (done as “Ramblin’ Woman”), several bouquets of flowers were laid by her feet onstage. As she sang, Power slowly and deliberately tossed flower after flower out into the audience, taking moments to make eye contact and connect with those in the crowd. And although her performance may have been largely concentrated inward, she seemed to relish these moments tossing flowers out into the sea of people, even staying onstage to do so after she and the band took their final bow. It was a playful, perhaps cathartic way to decompress from the intensity of the night’s performance. —Alena Kastin