Cat Power in Vicar Street, Dublin, on Thursday 16 March 2017
Vicar Street is an intimate refuge of calm away from the usual pre-Paddy’s Day mayhem that tends to unfold on Dublin’s streets on this date each year. This is a much more welcoming environment – a dimly lit, all-seated room with a stage bathed in a warm red glow, and the expectation of what tonight’s set from Cat Power might bring. Her onstage career hasn’t been without its difficulties, and the erratic nature of her performances has been oft-documented, so there’s a certain air of trepidation going in. Maybe trepidation is too strong a word, but there’s definitely an edge, even to this low-key solo performance centred on guitar, piano and Power’s captivating presence.
The first six numbers segue seamlessly into one another, covers of Dylan and The Stones intermingled with Power’s own work. With Power on electric guitar, a song will seem to come to a natural conclusion, a chord hanging suspended until the following intro blooms delicately from the gently picked notes. The first musical pause of the set precedes Great Expectations as she sets down the guitar to take her seat at the piano. Power is plagued by a frog in her throat for much of the first half of the evening, often turning from the mic to clear the pipes. “It’s coming up” she reports of the troublesome phlegm, seeming more apologetic about her throat than is perceptible in the singing. Power’s voice is in fine fettle, the apologies unwarranted, but nonetheless they sporadically pepper the performance.
Any initial reticence to engage is soon dispelled, as the night becomes as much of a back-and-forth between Power and the audience as it is a lone performance. “How’s Shane MacGowan?” she asks, telling of an earlier taxi driver’s anglicised bastardisation of the infamous phrase. The translation is offered back en masse – “Póg mo thóin!” Equally full-voiced, a chorus of The Auld Triangle is sung towards the stage when Power declines, cooing “I don’t want to mess that up in Dublin.”
Often as muddled as it is astute, and as poignant as it is funny (“I’ve been learning jazz as a joke”), Power’s between song chatter is as integral to the performance as the songs are. She even seems more comfortable engaging with the audience in this manner than she does through music, tense by her own admission. At Fate of the Human Carbine’s “They all come and peep through a hole in the wall/Keep the bastards guessing” line, she pulls away from the mic, from the lyric itself. “That’s para-fuckin-noia” she tells us, from a better emotional place than from when it was penned twenty years ago.
“Thank you for accepting me for who I am” she says, quieting the room with an a capella Wanderer. Even after this lengthy set, it seems as if she could stay on and talk a while, but she calls the evening to a haltering close with a heartfelt, hard won piece of advice to take home – “Take care of yourself and the people that love you.“