Cat Power – Troy Savings Bank Music Hall – Review

Written by on March 15, 2024

Cat Power @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall 2/16/24 – by Tara Davis.

The slight young woman clutched her guitar and backed away from the front of the stage at Great American Music Hall, edging further and further away from the audience and begging the staff to dim the stage lights. “More please, lower, lower,” until they refused to turn them down any more and she was left standing off to the side of the stage in a small pool of light, dimly lit and barely visible. She shared that she had just learned that the hall was haunted, and that right before she took the stage she’d heard a noise outside the green room, opened the door, and found nothing there. She seemed to find this quite unsettling. I’d seen Cat Power perform several times before and witnessed firsthand the crippling stage fright she was known for at the time, often playing as she did that evening, shielding her face with her long hair and stringing one song after another without pausing for applause in between. I remember being astonished she could continue to muster the courage to get up on stage and do this night after night. Just as astonishing however was her hauntingly beautiful voice that was somehow even more captivating live. She had been criticized by some for her stage presence but once I discovered her I never missed a chance to go see her and hear that stunning voice in person.

Although I have remained a fan I hadn’t seen her perform since that show in San Francisco in 2002. I knew there had been changes, she’d learned to manage the stage fright, survived a mental health crisis, found recovery, become a mother, cut off the long hair. But I was unprepared for the transformation from such a painfully shy performer to the confident woman who strode out onto the stage of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on a chilly Friday night in February. She appeared much taller than I remembered in black stiletto heels with striking red soles, beaming and greeting the audience of fans and apparently friends, taking the time to make eye contact and to connect with people in all sections of the hall. She was in Troy to perform “Cat Power Signs Dylan”, recreating what is probably Dylan’s second most infamous performance, the Royal Albert Hall concert. For the music geeks out there it should be noted that the concert wasn’t actually held in Royal Albert Hall, but as there has already been plenty written about this iconic concert that’s a story for another time.

Accompanied during the acoustic set by just a guitar and harmonica, I was not surprised to hear her voice is just as stunning as it ever was, although more mature, huskier, with more depth. The performance faithfully mimicked the original set list, however as always her interpretations of the songs were her own, her phrasing and inflection deliberate and controlled, showcasing the beauty and depth of the songs and the power of lyrics that have inspired, captivated and often confused Dylan fans for decades. For those who may not be familiar with Cat Power, aka Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) Marshall, since she is not exactly a household name, she has released not one but three albums of cover songs previously in addition to several of her own material, covering artists ranging from Iggy Pop to Kitty Wells to Bill Callahan. Her covers are typically almost completely unrecognizable from the original songs (even her “cover” of her own song, Metal Heart!), check out Joni Mitchell’s Blue or the Rolling Stones, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction for examples.

I was struck during the opening set not only by her exquisite delivery and the power of the songs themselves, but by the historical significance of choosing to recreate this particular concert that took place nearly 60 years ago with both an album and a sold-out tour. Robyn Hitchcock has said that Visions of Johanna is his favorite song, and what inspired him to become a musician. As I looked around the packed venue at an audience enthralled with Chan’s performance and for the most part very familiar with the songs themselves, I was awed by the sheer impact Dylan’s songs have had on countless people and in a myriad of ways over the years. These songs have brought comfort, insight or joy to many people, and inspiration to many others as is clearly the case in this instance, occasionally changing the course of people’s lives, connecting us as only music can and in ways we can probably never fully comprehend.

A full band joined Chan onstage for the second (infamous) electric set. It’s the stuff of legend that at the time Dylan’s fans who expected him to remain strictly a folk singer were shocked and horrified, angry even, that he would betray them by plugging in and rocking out. I think it’s almost impossible for us to grasp in this day and age just how shocking this was, and why, but I swear the second set of the show captured the spirit of what surely must have been exciting back in the day for the fans in attendance who weren’t offended. Chan’s vocals that were so lovely in the acoustic set blended beautifully with the band in the electric as well. The set was lovingly reconstructed including featuring a Hammond organ and Wurlitzer that the keyboard player noted was older than he was. Despite limited space people couldn’t resist getting up to dance in the aisles, especially during a particularly rollicking version of Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat. And yes, someone did call out “Judas!” near the end.

The theme of the evening for me was transformation, how Chan has transformed herself despite some formidable obstacles from that shy girl into an amazing performer who’s not afraid to take her shoes off (and remarkably managed to slip them back on again without missing a note), and how Dylan’s music has touched and transformed each and every one of us.

It was truly a magical evening and I can’t wait to see what Chan Marshall decides to do next.

Dylan will surely continue to inspire, confound and delight as well.



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