Lyrically and stylistically, Cat Power’s month-old album “Sun” — her first set of new songs in six years — espouses a desire to outrace the past and confront the future. The singer-songwriter, whose real name is Chan Marshall, played all the instruments on it herself, a further expression of independence. But when she showed up at the 9:30 Club on Monday night with a new four-piece band and a new haircut — a ratty blond near-mohawk — to play those new songs, her history as a troubled performer was one part of her past she couldn’t shake.
Many in the sold-out crowd seemed unfamiliar with the songs from “Sun,” which accounted for the lion’s share of the draggy 100-minute set. But Marshall’s emphasis on new material was the only element of the show that could be called confident.
Performing in front of a piece of scenery that looked like one giant corner of a battered picture frame, Marshall seemed only fitfully present. She avoided looking at the audience. She lit sticks of incense throughout the show, filling the packed club with an eye-watering odor.
She frequently consulted a sheaf of papers. (Lyrics? Operating instructions? Room service menus?) She muttered between and sometimes during songs. The banter she intended for us to hear was hardly more intelligible. “Anybody here have their 40-year-old pants on?” she asked, apparently mad about a recent review that had mentioned her age.
Marshall sang a handful of songs with a microphone in each hand, an arresting visual gimmick that had no audible effect on her still-powerful pipes. (The audio mix overall was unusually muddy and bass heavy for the 9:30 Club, which usually sounds great.)
When she lit upon her earlier material — the soulful “The Greatest,” a version of “I Don’t Blame You” further arrested from the already deliberate pace of the recording — the reverent crowd was waiting to shush the loud talkers and cheer her on. For the closing number, “Ruin,” Marshall made a show of disassembling a bouquet and tossing single flowers to members of the audience. It felt like an apology.
Klimek is a freelance writer.