Everyone, Lay Off Chan: In Defense Of Erratic Performers

If you want perfection, stay home and listen to the record, asshole.

Oct 23 2012, 10:00pm

Chan Marshall—or, as she is better known, Cat Power—has never been viewed by rock critics as a solid live performer. Her sets are known for being inconsistent, unpredictable and full of drunken ramblings. That’s right. Ms. Marshall has had a history of alcohol and drug problems just like most people who get up on a stage and share the most intimate corners of their God-damned souls with a room full of ticket-holding strangers. Plus, Marshall was plagued with the stage fright thing when she was in the baby-steps of her rock career. Some artists hide it, others do not. Marshall never hid it. Instead, she hid behind her signature brown fringe and whispered into the microphone, hunched behind a piano or guitar. The noise that came out was undeniably incredible.

So, why did she get such a terrible reputation as an incapable live performer? Because she would do things like show up late for concerts (or not show up at all), stop songs halfway through and refuse to finish, patter around the stage, or walk-off early. In short, she was a bad little trained monkey. She took the responsibility of a performer (which is to do exactly what the audience and ticket price expects of you) and ignored it completely. I want to know why this is such a bad thing.

What’s bad about being unpredictable? Isn’t that what we love most about our rock stars?

Since Chan Marshall dropped her sixth studio album, Sun, and started touring the record, she has received nothing but weird-bad reviews. Of course, every snobby little rock critic talks about how her skills as a songwriter are “without parallel,” but they wag their fingers in disapproval of her onstage behavior.

The kingpin of bad reviews was from David Von Bader of the Miami New Times. He criticized her for cutting songs, being unhappy with the sound, and withering under the lights. But, the nastiest part of his review was how he ragged on her issues with drugs and booze:

“Get Chan Marshall off the road and into proper treatment… However, she is unwell. And though it might now be a part of the Cat Power mystique, it is beyond uncomfortable to pay money to watch the unraveling of a woman this talented at the hands of whatever vice has her in its grip.”

Marshall responded by uploading a screencap of the review to her Instagram and writing (in all-capitalized letters) that David Von Bader was “a square” (which is fucking hilarious).

I’m going to take a stand right now in defense of erratic performers. When you go see a show, there should be a sense of unpredictability. The audience is not in control of what happens, the performer is. And guess what? Things might not always go as planned. The Replacements used to be the champions of unpredictability. Some shows, they would play every song perfectly, while others, they would not play a single piece of original material and drunkenly cover campy old songs. That’s what rock 'n’ roll should be. It’s real. Fake it and you get caught. Remember poor Ashlee Simpson? The pop world is nasty.

If you want perfection, stay home and listen to the record. A live performance is about a one-time experience, and no matter how drunk, rambling, or messed up the performer may be, that is part of the game. Some days, you are on, and some days, you are on another planet. Critics have no idea what it’s like to be on stage night after night. Maybe Chan Marshall is trying to teach the audience something about being uncomfortable? Inflict the pain back onto them. Who knows? All I know is no one ever complained during The Greatest and Jukebox years, and it’s not like she was sober then either, so don’t bring vices into it. Marshall has gone through some emotional changes lately (relationship stuff we all deal with) as well as physical changes (new hair, don’t care). I wonder if none of these very visible and so-called "erratic" changes had happened to the artist known as Cat Power, would reviewers still being seeing a “new” Marshall?

Chan Marshall plays Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC tonight. I can’t wait to see what all the papers have to say tomorrow. And if she shows up 15 minutes late with a drink in her hand, will verbal tones be thrown?

I’m on your side, Chan. The art of performance is a loss of control. Fuck the critics.