'The Great Cat Power Disaster Of 2003'
Sydney, Australia I don't know why people run off the rails. But here I am on holidays floating out into the afternoon on a recording of Evan Dando's "My Drug Buddy," finding myself sent back towards something that happened more than a few weeks ago.
Cat Power at the Metro. We were late, bad traffic all the way down Oxford Street. She was already mumbling stuff about being "straight for 12 days" with a bottle in her hand.
When we walked in Chan Marshall's just-above-a-whisper singing seemed to be casting its spell, but the feeling of an unruly crowd and an unruly night soon made that more of a strange hex than a beautiful progression.
Marshall toyed with the opening notes of "Crossbone Style" again and again before abandoning them. A tease, then something messier, as it emerged she was pretty much incapable of playing anything at all.
Her hand was always at her hair, like some drunk 17-year-old girl trying to flirt with you but embarrassing herself, like someone not knowing how to meet us face to face.
What makes an artist abandon the audience they coveted and the work they made? Is it some deeper loneliness thwarting every gift? Is it something childish?
The newspapers in my hand have a story on the "eccentric behaviour" of Keanu Reeves, how he wears old tape round old, falling-apart Hush Puppies and spends his birthday alone in a restaurant, a modern-day Howard Hughes in the making with one tragedy too many on his back.
It's weird to think of success as a manifestation of sadness, or a heightening corona around it little more than a symptom of the need for love. And with that thought, to think of art as a healing delusion a way, as the novelist Nabokov once put it, to find beauty lost in the lived world, to rebel against "the wrong shape of things."
Chan Marshall is waving at the audience. Hiding behind her keyboards in a crouch, while her mighty violinist does her best to ennoble the show with something special after 40 minutes of incoherence and fey weirdness. But how that violinist tries, with the rest of the band, to raise up something from it all, turning on an instrumental jam as Marshall walks out into the audience and lies down on the floor, encouraging a magical scene like The Beatles singing "All You Need Is Love" on that old black-and-white film clip by satellite from somewhere still special, oh my God, a sit-in for the new century as she moans and mumbles and sings and improvises, snatches of Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" rising out of a sweeter space lost somewhere still inside her. Though I find it hard to believe she can get to this feeling or any feeling at all when she is this trashed. As if each word might not have a relationship to the next one. As if it might be mimicry, not magic (read the reviews of other shows and you will see they are the same in almost every way, chaos as vaudeville, the whole fucking thing).
All over the Metro arguments are happening, fights brewing. A few loud lads scream "pull your head in" and jeer, while some drunken women try to sing along. It's an abusive evening where some still try to listen.
Marshall leaves and the lights go on and half the crowd boos while others laugh amazed, or shake their heads at what will likely be known as "The Great Cat Power Disaster of 2003." Rumor has it that Marshall has been on a bender all over town. That she was thrown out of the Courthouse Hotel the night before, no mean feat in Sydney's seedy-land if it's true. You know how people talk.
While the house lights burn she comes jigging back on stage, finally ready, it seems, to perform. Pounding away at the drums, your incompetent annoying kid sister. After a whole night of saying in every gesture "I'm not sure if I want to be here" and "I don't know if this is me," Chan Marshall, who hides her face in her hair and acts so mysterious and broken, suddenly sees a departing audience and starts saying look at me. Look at me. Please keep looking at me. Mark Mordue [Wednesday, December 10, 2003]