The short version, for those of you in a hurry or furtively reading this on your lunch break at work: the new, adult-contemporary Chan Marshall did her soul thing for an all-ages crowd at the acoustically challenged Showbox Sodo. She didn’t crack up or otherwise lose it, although she did apologize all evening, for what it wasn’t clear. It was a really swell show. OK then! On to the long version.
Opening the evening was Appaloosa, an electro-pop duo comprised of Parisian singer Anne Laure and Londoner Max Krefeld on the machines. For some reason Max wasn’t in attendance for this show; in his place was a small device (an iPod? a sampler? a karaoke machine pre-loaded with Appaloosa backing tracks?) that Laure operated from the stage. As one song began it’s fade, she’d walk over and plunk a button, and the next backing track would come on with a blast of synthetic drums and an impenetrable wall of synthesized rainbows and unicorns.
Appaloosa seemed to confound the audience; Anne Laure’s singing has been compared to Nico (which, for uptempo dance-pop, isn’t really such a good thing) and her stage presence was pretty stiff. As she sang somewhat tunelessly over the backing tracks, she danced and smiled as if constantly reminding herself to keep moving or else it might all just fall apart. At first, the hipsters seemed to think it was some sort of elaborate performance art routine, a downtown wink to delight early arrivals. As it became obvious that Appaloosa/Anne Laure was quite earnest, confusion turned to discomfort, and then most people seemed to simply lose interest. This was an all ages show, so from within our respective fenced-off cattle pens, the over-21 crowd hoisted beers and talked loudly to each other; the under 21 crowd hoisted cans of Diet Pepsi and sent text messages (presumably not to each other, but you never know.)
Without beverage or mobile communication device, I was in the final minority — I kept watching, and listening, transfixed. There were periods when I felt I had wandered into a talent show in a shopping mall, and times when I felt like I was peeking into a schoolgirl’s window, as she danced and sang along with a Eurosong contest compilation in front of a full length mirror. And then it was over.
Cat Power time! As you all probably know, Chan Marshall is now a soul diva, and the set was made up largely of covers from her recent Jukebox CD and it’s non-covers predecessor, The Greatest. I love Chan Marshall’s voice on record; it’s husky, sexy, tactile, and she’s developed a sense of nuance that I’d never have guessed at back when I listened to Moon Pix or What Would the Community Think? To say I was stoked for this show would be an understatement. Her backing band, the Dirty Delta Blues Band, was killer. Guitarist Judah Bauer (Blues Explosion) has a greasy, offhand rhythm style he occasionally punctuates with stinging leads or creamy slide runs; drummer Jim White (Dirty Three, Nick Cave) is amazing in any setting. And my favorite shared moment with the text-messaging Diet Pepsi posse that surrounded me up front was a long analysis of how keyboardist Gregg Foreman gets his Ron Wood coif so spiky without resorting to the dreaded ‘wet’ look. “You gotta blow dry it up,” I learned. “His hair takes the longest to prepare for the show out of anyone in that band. Guaranteed. And I mean guaranteed.” (On an unrelated note, his Hammond riffs were impeccable.)
This was my first show at the Showbox Sodo; is the sound mix always this swampy? Marshall kept running to the monitor guy to either ask for more vocal in the mix, or (resultingly) to complain about the feedback in the monitors. It couldn’t have been any worse than the mix out in the club though; from our various age-specific corrals in this cavernous venue, Marshall’s luxurious voice was often buried, and much of the subtlety that makes Jukebox and The Greatest special was lost. As one song blurred into another, it became a series of soul-inspired band vamps, with Marshall’s voice occasionally fighting it’s way to the fore. Those moments were terrific, which made it all the more frustrating. I loved how she confidently worked the stage from end to end, though; this is a performer who’s far removed from her early days where shows often disintegrated into false starts and tears.
Rather than leave the stage before the encore, two members of the band stayed — keyboardist Foreman and bassist Erik Paparozzi — and slid into a long, ambient space jam best described as Emerson, Lake and Palmer on quaaludes (and sans Palmer). It was a gorgeous instrumental, but at the ten minute mark people were leaving in droves. I was digging it the way I dig listening to DJ Riz do his Expansions show here at KEXP, but it didn’t seem to be the right vibe for the Cat Power crowd (especially the fans who kept yelling out requests, like the guy next to me who unfailingly bellowed “‘Good Woman’! Play ‘Good Woman’!” between every song (and once during a song; it was a breakdown section, which apparently confused him.)
Marshall finally did return, did a couple more, and departed after tossing setlists and flowers out to the crowd. Luckily for me, the space-jam had evacuated so many people that I was able to stroll right up to the front, and caught a flower. If anyone’s interested, it’s on eBay. I recommend “Buy It Now”, because it’s wilting. Maybe if I blow dry it up…