Live Review: Cat Power and J.Tillman @ City Arts Fest, 5th Avenue Theatre 10/23

photos by Steven Dewall

Playing at the magnificent 5th Avenue Theatre in downtown Seattle, J. Tillman and Cat Power put on a splendid show full of heartfelt rock ballads. J. Tillman (first name Joshua) started off the night with a half-hour set of acoustic songs, many telling interesting stories similar to Fleet Foxes’ lyrics, of which he is currently a member. He had a gray cardigan slung over his chair and long, dark hair that hung several inches past his shoulders. Along with the story-telling embedded in the lyrics, exploring such topics as the Biblical-type flood in “Diamondback” and the story of his father having him put down an old mare in “One Task,” Tillman nonchalantly told stories between songs of his rental car (a Dodge Charger) and how he has lived in Seattle for seven years and never heard of the 5th Avenue Theatre. He seemed to be at his best in these rambling moments of story-telling and repeated guitar riffs in the verses, eerily disassociated from the audience, almost as if he was just telling himself stories.

The stunningly beautiful Chan Marshall (alias Cat Power) put on a delicate performance spotted with moments of more aggressive blues-tinged instrumental pieces. It was clear that she had stage-fright (she mentioned she was honored to be performing but that she was very nervous), something that she has dealt with in the past — amidst frequent fidgeting and half-movements, she hated to be the center of attention, often performing from a far side of the stage with her profile to the audience or facing the band that was accompanying her. Yet, this oddly made her that much more intriguing to watch.

Her vocals were incredible, a low and wispy voice that often ascended to a forceful and at times, raspy falling note reminiscent of Janis Joplin. She often held the microphone like a harmonica, replacing and removing it from its stand multiple times per song. She had a unique way of almost swallowing her vowels, fascinating to listen to and see but difficult to understand. Her stage-fright seemed to subside as the night went on, fully disappearing during more upbeat songs such as “Silver Stallion.” The night was summed up by Marshall’s acknowledgement and graciousness of being a main-stage act at 2010’s City Arts Fest as she passed out white roses to the front-row fans.

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