On December 4th, Chris and I took a drive to Mass MOCA in North Adams MA to see Cat Power perform. Cat Power is a 20-something year old musician with a cult following and an amazing voice. Unfortunately, her live performance left something to be desired. More on that later. For anyone who has never heard of Mass MoCA, Mass MoCA is an art space in North Adams (a town in the middle of nowhere—literally!) that has ongoing art exhibits and dance, music and theater performances, often of a unique kind. It is a beautiful, interesting place well worth the drive to–an off-beat artist’s mecca.
While we were there, we bumped into a girl I knew from my dental hygiene program at school and her girlfriend. It was a nice surprise and we all sat together during the performance. Our impression of Cat Power’s performance was the same. Like a slow motion car-wreck waiting to happen.
The performance began with an uneasy Cat Power approaching the stage and shyly trying to make idle chatter. From the very beginning she had a look of apprehension on her face which foreshadowed the rest of the event. She would often stop in the middle of a song to comment “this just doesn’t sound right you guys” or “my mike sounds weird”, or “I’m sorry for such a sucky performance!”. Her voice was undeniably gorgeous and edgy, but her song list was something even her most avid fans could not figure out. She would start a song and then change to a new song mid way, make up lyrics, or add lyrics from other musicians (one song ended up with an impromptu version of the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the dirty ground”). Very few of her songs were from her albums, and when the few that were from her albums were song, they were barely recognizable.
The mood worsened as she switched from piano to guitar and then back again. The drama of doing a solo performance in a small arena was taking its toll on her, and although kind fans would shout “you’re doing fine”, Cat seemed to know better. From then on was a futile attempt to save the performance, and Cat seemed to know she was drowning without a life preserver. She shyly requested that the lights be turned off in order to “help her not too feel as uncomfortable” , but it was too late. She was too darned uncomfortable from the get go, and we all knew it. After a painful attempt to sing a song from “You are Free”, Cat stopped abruptly and said, in a guilt-ridden tone “I think I’m just gonna walk off stage now”. She walked off in a hurry and I was afraid she would burst into tears.
I had to feel slightly sorry for Cat. I was amazed at her utter lack of confidence in her skill on stage. I wasn’t sure if she was uncomfortable because she rarely performs, and even more rarely performs solo, or if she had walked on stage without a definite game plan for what to sing and was stuck in a bad moment. Reviews of past performances likened her to those of Neil Young’s , where “you never know what you’ll get”. Unfortunately, what we got was the short end of the stick. Her performance left us slightly disappointed, but we are still fans of her recorded music and know “that artist is still in there SOMEWHERE”, we just wouldn’t see her live again. At least she could SING, though. Mass MoCA itself was a great place and we hope to return for another performance of some kind, just NOT Cat Powers. Sorry Chris for dragging you into that one!