Cat Power is the stage name of American singer/songwriter Charlyn "Chan" Marshall (born Charlyn Marie Marshall). She is known for her minimalist style, sparse guitar and piano playing, and ethereal vocals.
Traditionally, Marshall’s live shows have been notorious for their chaotic and unpolished nature, with songs beginning and ending abruptly or blending into one another without clear transitions. Marshall has in the past spoken of her severe stage fright. She has been known to stop playing in order to apologize for a self-perceived flaw in her performance.
She has even cut short a few of her performances without explanation, on some occasions under the influence of alcohol. Marshall has admitted to abusing alcohol in the past; in a 2006 interview with the New York Times, she declared herself to be sober, which she defined as having had "seven drinks in seven months."
These events have had a polarizing effect on Marshall’s fan base. Some have been alienated by what they perceive as Marshall’s lack of professionalism, while others have enjoyed what they see as a candid, honest, and spontaneous performance. Marshall is often very talkative during performances, usually cracking jokes.
Recently, Marshall's performance style has been said to be much more enthusiastic and professional. An article in Salon magazine called The Greatest "polished and sweetly upbeat", stating that Marshall was finally "delivering onstage". In the article, Marshall states that her newfound musical collaborators and sobriety are largely responsible for her increased confidence onstage.
Marshall is notable both as a songwriter and as an innovative interpreter of other artists' songs. Her cover versions often ignore the melodies and lyrical hooks of the originals, as evidenced by her renditions of Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", or alter the mood of the song altogether, as with her exclusive performance of Oasis' "Wonderwall" at a John Peel BBC Radio One session on July 20th, 2000. The music is similarly stripped down, often to little more than an electric guitar with a clean tone and her voice.
She often performs unreleased covers at her live shows. Her choice of covers over the years has revealed a widespread and eclectic taste in both new and old music, incorporating artists as diverse as Gnarls Barkley, the White Stripes, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, and Jessie Mae Hemphill. She frequently introduces new covers into her live performances, though the unpredictability of her live shows has made the performance of certain songs a rarity, as is the case with her rarely performed version of Will Oldham's "Wolf Among Wolves."
In addition, her highly personalized version of "The House of the Rising Sun" is particularly notable in that it is an example of a traditional folk song being performed in the tradition of folk music, that of adding new lyrics to an old song to make it a more personal expression. Despite being popular for many years with artists such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, this adaptation and personalizing of old folk songs is largely absent in modern music.