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Bring out Robin Pecknold!” a girl rudely shouted as she sat down next to me as J. Tillman performed on stage. Tillman is the drummer for local heroes Fleet Foxes, and Pecknold is their lead singer. However this was not Pecknold’s show; it was Tillman’s and he was doing a wonderful job!

He opened the show with the song “Three Sisters” and it was just fixating to watch him alone with his acoustic on that big old stage of the 5th Avenue Theatre, all in its glorious, if not exotic Kung-Fu dragon theme. Tillman certainly has the Fleet Foxes’ melancholy going for him, as well as a touch of darkness; and sometimes almost gospel. Kind of like Nick Drake. Or Don McLean at times too as he sings about relationships, or life as a drifter.

He used his fingernail tips to tap the guitar for a beat. Other times he whistled and sang some “do-do-do’s.” The songs were very sweet though with clean, crisp acoustics coming from the venue. J. Tillman actually has a very good voice that might go really under-appreciated in Fleet Foxes. I give him a 5 out of 5 and I’ll be going to see him again soon.

And then there was Cat Power. I’d been waiting to see her for YEARS as I’m just fascinated by her (Chan Marshall) voice. Never shy of cover songs, Cat Power started off the show alone with The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” though you would never know it if it weren’t for the recognizable lyrics. Same goes for her cover of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac a little later. The music is completely re-arranged and only the lyrics reveal what is going on.

Alone with her guitar, Cat Power slowly churned out “Good Woman” from the album You Are Free to a huge applause, then her band (bass, drum, guitar, keyboards) quietly crept onto the stage and began playing along. However before they came out, you could hear her boot patting the stage floor as the crowd was respectful and quiet.

Cat Power at CityArts Fest 2010

Marshall is well known for having wacky shows as she suffers from chronic stage anxiety. And it showed. She was all over the stage at many points, but usually just trying to duck out of the spotlight and let the band be the focus as she often tried to stay to the sides. Sometimes her hands were behind her back as she sang; others they were touching her face or hair very nervously. She even apologized for being so nervous. A woman yelled out “I believe in you!” I think we all did.

But it all comes back to that voice. That warm, motherly nurturing voice. That smokey, sultry, sexy yet spooky voice. Comprehending her lyrics in her songs on album is not always easy as she just has a breathy voice. That is the same with her live performances. A touching moment was her singing James Brown’s “Lost Someone” as she traded off lyrics with keyboardist Gregg Foreman, sounding like a couple. As for the band, they continued on with their country-twangy and somewhat bluesy sound, with none of them barely moving three inches at any time. The drummer looked like Wayne Coyne about 12 years from now.

During the rest of the show, Marshall usually just sang with her mic and rarely picked up her guitar; and when she did, it was usually just for odd jam out sessions with the band. Finally she did make her way to the piano though and the crowd lit up with delight. Again the nerves set in and she kept fidgeting with her face and pulling her hands off the keys, only to  get them back just in time to hit the next notes. Sadly, the piano only lasted for two songs. The urge to just walk up and kiss her on the back of the neck and whisper “You’re doing great” as she played that piano was really coming over me. You just want to help her. During another piano song, she couldn’t finish the piano playing part as her hands looked like they weighed 500 pounds each. All she could do was sing as her band finished the song up.

Cat Power at CityArts Fest 2010

While the covers flowed all night, it was again older originals like “I Don’t Blame You” that really brought out her talents as a singer. This isn’t to say she was a nervous wreck the entire time either. Her body moved in sync with the flow of the music and she certainly had her groove at many points. But just hearing a voice that gorgeous in front of you is very empowering and something that has to be seen in person.

To end the show, Cat Power let her band rock out a jam session while she politely handed out white flowers to audience members in the front row. She bowed and waved many times over. She crumbled up set lists and threw them to the crowd.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Cat Power doesn’t put on a good performance. She just puts on HER performance! Although The 5th Avenue Theatre was a pretty theatre and certainly unique, I felt like it was too big of a stage for Cat Power and the intimacy was drawn away from the show. She just seemed too far away. Yet with the urge to hug her and let her know that it’s all okay, she actually felt pretty close the whole time.

All photos courtesy of CityArts Fest

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