"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

9.21.2006

the other night in live music: crazytown

I was on a kind of live music bender for most of last week. Six nights, to be exact. Six consecutive nights of live music, three of which were free and three of which were the festival. What's clear tonight is that I am entirely too old for this. Even SXSW is only five nights, and you get to sleep in for that.

But, whatever. The chance to see Cat Power & the Memphis Rhythm Band tape an episode of Austin City Limits on Monday night outweighed my concerns about catching up on sleep/cleaning up the house/enjoying silence in my own home.

And what a show it was. Chan Marshall (who is Cat Power), you see, has a bit of a, um, reputation. She leaves shows mid-set, has nervous breakdowns on stage, and had some substance abuse problems, to put it mildly. The guy in front of us in line went to her show in Los Angeles last year, during which she played six songs, then climbed into the rafters, sang three songs with Jack Black, yelled, "I dropped my vodka," and left. The guy in front of us in line said, "I wanted my $47 back."

All this is funny, but it's also very sad, because Chan Marshall is an amazingly talented musician.

But things are changing, maybe for the better. Marshall has sobered up and she held it together for her ACL festival set on Friday.

Monday night started well. She is backed on this album and tour by The Memphis Rhythm Band, which includes Teeny Hodges, who's part of Al Green's band. The band is amazing, and it was so cool to see them in a tiny setting like the ACL studio (which holds about 300 people). They rocked out, and, more importantly, kept Cat Power going, even as she talked about the voices in her head (she was serious) and danced to beats the rest of us weren't hearing.

Then the band left so she could tape a few solo songs. She talked with the audience for awhile and then launched into the most beautiful version of "House of the Rising Sun" I've ever heard. But she couldn't get through it. She tried and tried and tried and kept getting through two or three verses and stopping. Her manager came up and had her sit down and she tried again and got a little farther, then gave up and moved on to something else.

It was so sad. I was sad that all of you wouldn't get to hear that song, because it was beautiful, transcendent, not entirely of this world. But she finished the solo songs and gave it another try and got the whole thing laid down, and, wow. If they don't air it on the show, it will be a huge error in judgment.

All in all it was a beautiful way to end a week of music. Cat Power was great and just crazy enough to make it interesting, and her band was amazing. I need a nap.

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