Cat Power returns to Variety Playhouse with eclectic 'Covers' tour

cat power
Cat Power’s show is at Variety Playhouse on April 13. (Mario Sorrenti)

Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, has been making music for decades. Some say her unique voice carries waves of mystery and an air of vulnerability. Cat Power’s newest release, “Covers,” is her 11th studio album and her third collection of cover songs. This new collection is eclectic, to say the least, and includes songs from Billie Holiday, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, Bob Seger and Iggy Pop. She’s performing at Variety Playhouse this Wednesday, April 13, and joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to catch up ahead of the show. 

Marshall described an unusual process for creating cover versions of songs. The way she does it, you might not recognize the song without the lyrics because Marshall composes entirely new music to accompany lyrics to other artists’ songs she chooses. She related a story about one particular composition that needed extra inspiration to come together in the studio.

“I didn’t know what song to sing,” she said. “I had a situation with a friend of mine about six months earlier, where he was going through a really hard time. He used to work with Bob Seger in the ’80s. And so I just played ‘Against the Wind’ for him this day, and he looked at me, and he wiped his eyes, and he was able to continue. And so that [song] was just on the top of my head, so I said, ‘All right.’ I grabbed my smartphone, got the lyrics, and I just started singing — first take, done.”

This unorthodox process has yielded several other surprises; songs by Nick Cave, the Rolling Stones and The Pogues, all in entirely new styles. “Warming up without expectations and recording live is what I prefer,” Marshall said. “There’s this threshold of uncertainty … Everyone’s heart is beating a little faster cause nobody knows what the hell we’re going to be doing.”

Her sense of deconstructive adventure even applies to her own music. The Cat Power song “In Your Face” takes aim at the “white male 1%,” as she’s described it. But as Marshall toured with this song, performing it over and over, she began to feel angrier and angrier delivering its difficult message. “It started to affect me physically when I would sing it. It was hurting me … because I’m basically putting a curse on these men,” she said.

But one day, on a whim, she subbed out the lyrics to Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion” over the music of her own song and felt much better — as she put it, “absolved.”

Marshall was enigmatic regarding what she’ll play on stage at the Variety. “It depends on what happens with the wind, and you know, I always run on my gut.” 

Tickets and more information on Cat Power’s show at Variety Playhouse on April 13 can be found here