Cat Power + Mick Turner @ The Tivoli, 05.03.2013

Cat Power @ The Tivoli, Tuesday 5 March 2013

Earlier this year, I bit the bullet and decided to take over as Reviews Editor at Collapse Board.  To be honest, I didn’t really want to as I’m not exactly much of a writer, but with Rave closing last year and getting accreditation to photograph gigs in Brisbane drying up, it was the best option to be able to keep photographing regularly.  It was a lot more attractive an option than signing up for another website and having to throw my hat in the ring with a dozen other photographers for any and every gig I want to photograph.  Despite having never really done anything ‘traditional’, during 2012 Collapse Board averaged just under 40,000 unique browsers per month and an average of 127,000 page views with it so it was a bit of a no brainer to take advantage of that and look to build on it by including some more regular live and album reviews.

It’s been an interesting six month learning curve.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how receptive the Australian music industry has been to requests for accreditation for gigs.  Most requests I’ve emailed off have been accepted, although ideally I think the site still needs a few more live reviewers just so I can go and photograph on a more regular basis.  It’s frustrating when I really want to photograph an act but no one is interested in reviewing, especially when it’s acts like PiL, Killing Joke and Black Sabbath who played in Australia for the first time in decades and might never come back again.

It’s been a completely different story in terms of the Australian music industry as regards album reviews.  I keep find it infuriating that I’m the one who keep has to ask PR companies to add me to their mailing list to keep me informed of upcoming releases so I can try and sort out reviews.  There have been times when contributors have said they really want to review a particular album, I’ve requested a review download from the company and never heard back from them.  The UK and US record companies have been a completely different story, eager to provide music for review, more than helpful when I email them requests.  That’s why most of the reviews on the site are about UK and US acts and not about Australian acts.  Sometime it feels as if the Australian music industry gives Collapse Board a wide berth because they know that they might not get a positive review and the obligatory three-stars-out-of-five minimum that any Australian album will get from street press or any of the music websites.  If you happen to work for an Australian record label and want to inform me of your upcoming releases, feel free to add my email address (reviews [at] to you mailing list and I’ll see what I can do.

Anyway, having become Reviews Editor, I was offered review and photographer accreditation for the Cat Power show in Brisbane.  I didn’t even have to ask, they asked me if we wanted to send anyone to cover it.  It was a very nice welcome to the world of Reviews Editor, although, in retrospect, it lulled me into a false sense of security about how easy it was going to be and how accommodating the Australian music industry might be.

Support act Mick Turner does his usual solo act thing. There’s no visuals this time as there have been previously, so it’s basically just a guy sat on a seat playing some loops. I experiment a bit with some longer exposures (1/6 ish) to try and get some movement but it’s tricky as camera wobble comes in down at those speeds.  He’s always the hardest to photograph in the Dirty Three as he doesn’t give you as much to work with as Warren Ellis or Jim White.  It’s a shame that Jim White isn’t playing with Cat Power tonight as it could have been a Tren Brothers show, although, having said that, watching her drummer play later on is one of the evening’s highlight.  When I pick up my photo pass I’m told I can photograph the whole of Turner’s set, which extends to 30 mins in the end.  I photograph the first song and it’s only when the pit is clear of photographers that he puts on his glasses.  Rock stars and their vanity.

In discussing the review before the show, I suggest that it doesn’t do what every review does and use Chan Marshall’s health issues as a centre point around which the article is written.  It seems so unfair for writers to continually pay attention to this rather than treat a performance on its own standing.  (I forget to impose a ban on the use of the phrase “Cat Power AKA Chan Marshall”, which sends me into teeth grinding mode every single time I read it in every single piece that’s written about her)  However, I’ve never seen Cat Power before and it’s not long into her set before I’m reconsidering my suggestion, given that it looks to be asking the impossible.

According to the venue, the set is scheduled to start at 9:00pm but it’s heading to 9:35pm before a note is played, a full hour after Mick Turner has finished playing.  We only get the first two songs to photograph, the lighting isn’t the best, and from the pit, as is often the case, the sound isn’t great.

If there’s one thing I hate photographing, it’s singers holding drinks.  I hate it because it looks so bad in photos and it always makes me think that they’ve not giving the audience their full attention.  Marshall is holding on to a corrugated cardboard coffee cup for grim life, but who knows what’s in it.  Thankfully she puts it down after the first song and provides an opportunity to get some photos of her without it in the second song.

Marshall’s performance is awkward throughout. Her vocals are lost in the mix, with her voice sounding shot, struggling to project over the instrumentation, and also clashing painfully with the backing vocals. When it comes together it works beautifully but every song is a lottery and you’re never sure what you’re going to get. ‘The Greatest’ is by far and away the best song of the night, while the new songs from her Sun album are hit and miss.  There’s some really stunning drumming throughout the set, and often the drummer is the centre of focus.

The crowd response seems very muted.  I expected a lot more fanaticism but from the few rows back there looks like there’s little interest.  A large group stood near the sound desk talk loudly throughout, much to the annoyance of people stood around them.   It’s a Triple J supported tour, so maybe that explains the audience.  There was forewarning of what to expect from the couple stood behind me in the queue to get in.

Although upstairs is open, downstairs is empty in the area behind the mixing desk, and as the set goes on, the floor becomes more and more empty.  The show runs over the normal Tivoli curfew of 11 until about 11:15pm. The onstage awkwardness that’s been on display all night continues as no one is sure if it’s ended or not, with CM still on stage interacting with the audience when the music starts playing over the PA.

As a first time Cat Power show attendee, I’m not sure if tonight’s performance was par for the course or not. Some next day investigations on Twitter relay that the benchmark was a previous Brisbane show where she used a sock puppet and hid behind a piano.  By comparison, tonight’s show sounds like a roaring success.  Indeed, most of the comments I’ve heard about the show and the reviews I’ve read have been very positive, so maybe it was just me.   Comment of the night has to go the following tweet; truer words were never spoken.

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