It’s been nearly 20 years since Chan Marshall played her first Cat Power gigs in NYC – experimental performances including a show in which she sang the word no repeatedly for 15 minutes.
By the end of the ’90s, she had achieved cult status: partly on account of her extraordinary ’98 album, Moon Pix, a collection of songs so deep and sad, you could drown drunk in them, and partly because of her pathological stage fright.
Much like shows by her idol, Nina Simone, a Cat Power date could be the best thing you’d ever seen, or the worst; most likely it hit on moments of both. Then came The Greatest (2006), on which Marshall matched her husky voice to vintage soul arrangements.
She pulled back her hair and smiled onstage; and while smoking a cigarette in Paris, she was spotted by Karl Lagerfeld, who was instantly enraptured. She became the new face of Chanel jewellery – but around the same time, she was hospitalised for a well-publicised mental breakdown.
What we see, time and again, is that Marshall is a survivor, capable of turning the ‘no, no, no’ into a ‘yes, yes, yes’. Right before the release of her latest album, Sun, her longtime partner, actor Giovanni Ribisi, ended the relationship; four months later, he married a model.
Marshall not only failed to crumble, but delivered her gutsiest, zestiest album yet: Sun, a fun and magnificent declaration of independence. An online review termed Marshall’s tour-opening Miami date a trainwreck. Whether her São Paulo show will suffer a similar fate, no one can say. But as Marshall herself sings in one old song, ‘If you’re looking for something easy, you might as well give it up’.