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Review: Cat Power's 'Sun' sets a tone that's blazing hot

The singer gives her all in a Palladium show pegged to her bold new album.

November 10, 2012|By August Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • Chan Marshall, better known as the indie rock singer-songwriter Cat Power, is photographed with her French bulldog, Abuelo.
Chan Marshall, better known as the indie rock singer-songwriter Cat Power,… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

Before Chan Marshall's Cat Power took the stage at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, the house DJ set the mood by playing Bob Dylan's "Shelter From the Storm" as her band walked on. She couldn't have picked more apropos entrance music.

Marshall recently announced that she'd canceled her upcoming European tour due to struggles with angioedema, a painful skin-swelling condition, and an apparent bankruptcy.

"I have not thrown in any towel, I am trying to figure out what best I can do. Heart broken. Worked so hard," she wrote in all-capital letters on Instagram. "I refuse to give up. Though I may need to restrategize for my security and health."

After all that, many at the Palladium seemed surprised she'd made it to her L.A. show at all. But although live shows have been a famous source of anxiety for the 40-year-old singer-songwriter, her Thursday set was both storm and shelter — a ferocious set of re-imagined tunes from her excellent new album "Sun," and a reminder of how music is a refuge for her and her fans.

"Sun," released in September, is her boldest album by any measure. Though it replaces her spare electric-guitar pinpricks for an array of synthesizers and drum machines, it isn't dance music by any means. It's a study in how a savvy artist can use any instrument and still sound like themselves.

Marshall lives in Miami now, and the album sounds like it — bold artifice barely concealing an inner loneliness and melancholy.

That ethic applied to her Palladium show as well. Her set dialed down "Sun's" neon-singed production for an almost goth-rock mood. Dressed in black leather and sporting a bleach-blond pixie cut, Marshall prowled the stage like Iggy Pop (who sings on "Sun") while her band pealed off spooky guitar noise worthy of Bauhaus.

It look close to 10 minutes of spare guitar pings to finally build into "The Greatest," from her 2006 album of the same name. But when they did, the song was as creepy and brooding as it is incandescent and soulful on record.

Songs from "Sun" took a similar tack — the 808-bouncy "Cherokee" and "Nothin' but Time" reconfigured as epics of venom, tempered by Marshall's unexpectedly lively stage presence.

Though she'd been sick enough to cancel a European tour, she gave it all onstage at the Palladium, tossing white roses into the crowd and exclaiming, "I'm 40 years old, I'm a … adult" to a slightly bewildered but enthusiastic crowd.

Older songs like "King Rides By" and "I Don't Blame You" were as moody as smoke rings. While the band she's assembled for this album cycle is just about the opposite of her Memphis-soul lineups of recent years, it's certainly her loudest and maybe her most riveting. Given full room to roam on a cover of Pedro Infante's "Angelitos Negros," as a vocalist she burned the song to ground.

Here's hoping that she recovers from all that ails her quickly and easily. For an artist who's so notoriously difficult onstage, these days she's playing with the strength of a hurricane.


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