Review: Cat Power at the Sydney Opera House

June 14th 2018

Photos by Daniel Boud

It’s been 20 years since the release of Cat Power’s breakthrough album Moon Pix. This Vivid LIVE she returned to the Sydney Opera House to perform the iconic record in full with her original collaborators. But did it warrant a standing ovation? Stuart Coupe reviews.

Prior to her Vivid LIVE show I’d not seen Cat Power perform before. But her previous visits to Australia – and in fact her global performance history – was well and truly the stuff of legends. She’d only sing two songs. She’d burst into tears. The show would be cancelled. It seemed as though anything short of a complete train wreck would be a triumph.

This performance was ostensibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Moon Pix, the album Cat Power had recorded in Melbourne two decades earlier with Mick Turner and Jim White from the Dirty Three. Turner and White were onstage tonight along with other musicians – another guitarist, plus violinist, cello, and flute.

Things started strangely. All the musicians came onstage and started playing. Eventually Power emerged to the expected applause. She’s bowing and waving, almost dancing – and then she races off stage. This doesn’t feel good. The band settle into the sort of riff you expect at an RSL club before the MC goes “and now, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s star time . . .”

After some anxious minutes Power emerges again clutching a sheaf of paper, clearly the lyrics to all the songs she’s going to perform which – let’s be honest here – you sorta would have hoped she’d spent time re-learning before a gig at the Opera House – or really, for any gig at all. All the musicians have their eyes glued on charts as well.  Even before the show really starts there’s a sense that maybe this is going to be a tentative, largely unrehearsed performance. That’s how it feels for most of the show. We get all of Moon Pix and then a generous smattering of other material, some of it with Power at the piano.

There’s a constant sense that this could go badly wrong at any point. But it doesn’t. It just rarely rises above the good.

Throughout the show Power says very little, and dances shyly and tentatively. There’s a constant sense that this could go badly wrong at any point. But it doesn’t. It just rarely rises above the good. Maybe three times for a few seconds do I feel the hairs rising on my arms and that sense that a transcendent moment is approaching. Then it just subsides gently. Only at the very end does Power talk openly to the audience, ostensibly acknowledging how far she’s come in terms of her journey and performance art, whilst also conveying a palpable sense of relief that she’s actually made it through the gig.

 

 

There’s a standing ovation at the conclusion of the show – one which seems like the audience conveying their support and love for Power for actually getting through the show, for not running of stage or fluffing it completely.

Personally I’m left a little non-plussed. It’s been an acceptable but hardly great performance if you remove the backend story. If you were unaware of the litany of gig screw ups and Power’s battle with seemingly many demons then it wouldn’t be a standing ovation evoking gig. As I said to a friend afterwards, if I go to watch the Sydney Swans I expect them to field their main team. If the reserves run out onto the ground instead I’m disappointed. I don’t go “oh wow, the reserves, that’s better than last week when they promised the main team but let the Under 10s play.”

If you were unaware of the litany of gig screw ups and Power’s battle with seemingly many demons then it wouldn’t be a standing ovation evoking gig. 

Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe not. This was an acceptable to good performance of an album (and some other stuff) that clearly resonated with legions of people around the globe. Personally I was hoping to be using words other than ‘acceptable’ and ‘good’ afterwards.

But Power didn’t screw it up. Every time that threatened to happen she and the band pulled it back. Frequently only just. Does that warrant a standing ovation?

 

 

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