I've been waiting to see Cat Power in concert ever since I decided that Chan Marshall was about the best singer this side of, um, Chrissie Hynde. But when loyal McBoner Darin informed me that I had the chance to see them both in concert on the same night and in the same place, I almost crapped. When he told me that the sometimes marginally decent actress Juliette Lewis would also be part of the show, I sort of rolled my eyes and stopped needing to crap. Even so, Immediately I got online and scored a pair of tickets at the Aragon Theater in Chicago.
Me and my no. 1 gal made the Aragon in time to find out the venue had changed. Luckily the McBonemobile is tricked out with the latest in satellite technology and a newly-installed 460 horsepower engine that tore up the streets of the Windy City and got us to the Vic Theater with time to spare. We threw down 6 dollars for a glass (cup) of wine and a very reasonable 15 clams for a martini (no twist or olive, but whatever) and found our seats, three rows back in the balcony, which was practically right above the stage. Squirming with anticipation, I downed my Bombay Sapphire and was pleasantly buzzed for the show.
Juliette Lewis was the opener, and I found her much less obnoxious than expected. Yes, she was decked out in cliche rock-star garb (funky t-shirt, tattered red tights and roller-girl kneepads) and singing punk like she was an actress singing punk, but she's got a pretty strong voice and a hell of a lot of energy. She warmed the crowd nicely for the person I had come to see.
And how was Cat Power? Well, let me tell you that the awesomeness level was high, but not as high as I'd hoped. Drawing mostly from her Jukebox album, she sang versions that were relatively faithful to the record. I suppose that's fine and all, but one of her strengths in my opinion is her Dylan-like ability to reinvent her own songs. There was very little of that here. Another complaint is that she seemed to defer to her band a little too much, and her voice was often drowned out by these players who are competent, yes, but certainly not what I had come to hear. I found myself wondering why someone with such a lovely, rich, textured, cigarette-smoking voice would want to, well, blend in. Nobody is coming to see the band at a Cat Power show. Cat Power is Chan Marshall and vice versa. Chan needed to be front and center, spotlight fixed firmly on her, with her singing rising above all else. All else is immaterial, really. The lights were so low on this stage, that all was a murky, blue wash.
That said, there were many highlights, none better than Metal Heart, which was the one instance she really seemed to open up and let it fly. Also outstanding were Song to Bobby, The Dark End of the Street, and I Lost Someone. She closed with Angelitos Negros, the poem by Venezuelan scribe Andres Eloy Blanco (memorized by Alex in 3rd grade, interestingly enough). While her accent is always spotty, the song isn't, and she does it justice because she's so fucking cool.
Chan left the stage to loud applause and she spent several minutes shaking hands with the crowd. As she walked off, I found myself craving more, and looking forward to her forthcoming album and tour. I don't know how long the wait will be, but it will be worth it, I know. Chan! You're a singer. You have a gift. Use it.
A half hour passed and The Pretenders took the stage. Chrissie Hynde is one of my all-time favorites not simply because she is from Akron and attended my alma mater, Firestone High School. She happens to be one of the great rock stars of all time. The moment she launched into her first song, Break up the Concrete, the competition was blown to smithereens. For a good hour and a half she destroyed this little venue, kicking and strumming and, at its closing apex, blowing harp. At almost 60, her voice has never sounded better, and she's never been as sexy or self-confident. I mean, just get a load of this woman's arms. And the boots! I defy you to not have a crush on her.
Her band, replete with guitar, bass, drums and lap steel, was also awesome, the perfect compliment to its leader. This was a woman in command of everything, from her singing, her musicians, the crowd--every atom in that theater belonged to her.
The ultimate highlight of the night was Back on the Chain Gang, which simply has to rate as one of Rock 'n' Roll's great anthems. The rest was a generous mix of old and new: Kid, Middle of the Road, Angel of the Morning, Love's a Mystery, Night in my Veins, and millions of others, too numerous to count.
Official McBone concert rating: 4.5 McBones. Oh, how I wanted a perfect 5.0 on this night, but why split hairs. Thanks to all three for a rollicking good time.