Most artists who play the Tiny Desk are at least a little nervous. Performing in broad daylight in a working office full of staring faces is outside the comfort zones of most people. But Chan Marshall, the unforgettable voice behind Cat Power, seemed especially uneasy when she settled in for her set. Rather than taking center stage, close to the audience, she stepped back and to the side to be closer to her pianist and friend, Erik Paparazzi, for much of the performance. She intermittently steadied herself by resting a hand under her chin while clutching a cup of tea, and she ran through three songs without a break, making her set sound more like a Cat Power medley than a series of distinct songs.
Regardless, the music was arresting and beautifully orchestrated, with simple piano lines and brushed drums backing a voice that could only be hers. Opening with "Wanderer," the title track to Cat Power's latest album, Marshall sang of restless love and yearning with a nod toward motherhood and her 3-year-old son: "Twist of fate would have me sing at your wedding / With a baby on my mind, now your soul is in between." She followed with "Woman," another track from Wanderer — originally recorded with Lana Del Rey — before closing with "The Moon," from her 2006 album The Greatest.
As the band played out its final notes, Marshall leaned on her pianist with a look of relief, as if to say, "We got through it!" But she was all smiles afterward, lingering long after the performance to chat warmly with friends and fans — particularly a small group of young children who'd attended with their parents. It was a sweetly endearing end to a memorable afternoon.
- "The Moon"
Chan Marshall, vocals; Erik Paparazzi, piano; Adeline Jasso, guitar; Alianna Kalaba, drums
Producers: Robin Hilton, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kaylee Domzalski, CJ Riculan, Beck Harlan; Photo: Jenna Sterner/NPR