Cat Power, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

On record, Cat Power's extraordinary music can seem a few notes away from not being music at all, so sparse is its production and structure. Her songs can be mantra-like and repetitive, or disjointed, structurally incoherent, her voice seemingly an ethereal resonance.

Cat (real name Chan Marshall, born in 1972, in Atlanta, Georgia) gives the listener the impression they are mainlining her emotions. Discovered in the early 1990s, she's attracted a growing number of devoted admirers, tantalising them in live appearances, hidden behind a Ramones-like fringe, and apparently on the brink of falling apart.

So there's a sense of relief when she wanders on stage and smiles at the audience. She begins playing, in her half-strummed, half-picked style, a battered Danelectro guitar that looks like it's been languishing in a dusty attic. Her astonishing voice sounds as though it has come from the same place, its deep-South country-twang combining a whisper with a growl. She introduces nothing, tending to play medleys of songs, or just fragments; "He War" (from her most recent record, 2003's You are Free), for instance, is stripped of its powerful chorus.

Power's guitar playing is ridiculously rudimentary: there are even moments when it a song is interrupted as she laboriously forms a barre-chord. She finishes a stint on the instrument with "Good Woman", then makes a "that was dodgy" hand gesture, and gives a thumbs-down - but the audience is entranced.

The piano allows her accompaniment to be even more minimal. Some songs are played with one hand: if she uses both, she can still fail to construct a chord. Once again, she merges songs, almost perfunctory with some gems. The beautiful "Names", for instance, is almost lost in a segue: a poignant list of adolescent contemporaries, a bit like a reverse "Abraham, Martin and John", its effect is diminished by the lack of space Power affords it and yet, strangely, that of the overall performance is not.

Power's simple two- and three-chord songs work like old blues: a repetitive musical figure overlaid with confessional vocals. "I could stay here and be someone better," she sings in the lovely "Colors and the Kids".

Typically, though, she deconstructs the song and tantalises us by not giving it a proper reading. By now, she seems to be having fun. She even, briefly, plink-plonks the "Pink Panther" theme, hissing "sorry" under her breath after every excursion. "I could play this one for four hours," she says at one point. This is true of almost every song she does: they could all last four hours, four minutes, or 40 seconds.

When she launches into her version of "Satisfaction", there's a cheer of recognition. She finishes with another fragment of "He War" and then she's off, meandering around the stage in coquettish, flirtatious appreciation of our applause. For the first time, I wonder how much of the shyness is an act. It's the first genuinely wrong note of the evening.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before