Tuesday April 18th, 2000 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Cat Power & Sean Na Na

This show came to town just as the press on Cat Power’s new covers CD was becoming unbearable, just I was beginning to succumb to the hype and letting my interests be swayed by Matador’s marketing machine, and right before I caved in and bought the album. From the look of the large audience of fresh faces, I wasn’t the only one suckered out by the hype (which included an article and interview in the local newsweekly). As I looked around the Bottleneck the crowd was well dressed and hip, it wasn’t a trendy college crowd in Banana Republic wear, nor was it the bohemian indie crowd that normally inhabits the place – maybe this crowd was imported from a cosmopolitan city in for the show.

Opener Sean Na Na is just one of the many efforts of Minneapolis’ unlikely hipster Sean Tillman. With an acoustic guitar and pianist/sidekick Lucky Jeremy, Sean gave the audience a glimpse into his neuroses revealing stories of love lost, sexual inadequacies, and his forays into drug culture. Like the best of singer/song writers, Sean’s songs are rich in catchy melody, his lyrics are witty and intelligent and his performance invites the audience into his intimate world.

Besides being the creative outlet for one of today’s most intriguing young songwriters, Sean Na Na puts on a fun show with Lucky Jeremy pounding away on his Fender Rhodes, seemingly unaware of the audience and apparently entrancing even himself. Sean dances around a bit shaking his ass and making stage banter seeming for his own benefit. Something is oddly sexual about watching him push up his glasses as the sweat brings them down the bridge of his nose during the set. If you missed out this time you can catch Sean Na Na when they role through next time (rumour is they’ll be on the road with both Lisa Loeb and Aimee Mann this summer).

The evening’s headliner, Cat Power, is also the effort of a single artist, namely Chan Marshall. Although touring with a full band in the past, for this outing Chan showed up with only a vintage Dan Electro guitar, a tiny practice amp and a rented upright piano (unfortunately with several dead keys).

Chan is admittedly a soundman’s worst nightmare. During the first song she moved her microphone three times, stopping the song each time she relocated, and muttering apologies in the microphone. She would do the same several times throughout the night and every time she would say ask for more vocals or more guitar, or more reverb or ask why her guitar just didn’t sound right.

In fact Chan’s stage show was entirely under-whelming as she hid behind her bangs and spoke in a voice that was only barely distinguishable. When we could understand what she said it was witty although her self-depreciating humour is only amusing for so long. Chan never moved while playing, she was lifeless behind her guitar or piano (although I did detect an overactive twitching leg that kept cut time while she played piano that did give me a hint that behind the slow, one-dimensional performance there was energy that needed to be released).

Chan’s voice can be heavenly, although she seldom ventures outside of a few note comfort zone and a single vocal styling. Her guitar playing was equally as safe, for which she apologized again telling the audience it was a shame she only knew two chords. It is a shame.

However all that aside, Cat Power does have an interesting and brilliant side. Chan’s voice is haunting, her guitar playing engaging, the heart of her music is bold and her music is an soulful release; it probably just isn’t best suited for a hot bar. The audience (even the old fans) seemed to agree as they drifted off during her long (over 90 minute) set. I was one of those that spent the end of the set at the back of the club chatting with a friend – a first for me in nearly 50 shows at The Bottleneck.