At one time, Chan Marshall — the woman behind the nom de indie rock Cat Power — was notorious for the wildly erratic nature of her live performances.
If she is more comfortable now on stage — and judging by her intermittently captivating concert Wednesday night at the House of Blues, she is — her shows still suffer their share of other issues.
Marshall’s most hypnotic gift is her voice, all smoke and bruises, defiance and melancholy. During portions of her 90-minute set, Marshall soared and her lyrics, ranging from intense personal confessionals to global laments, were as crisp as the heavily percussive backbeat provided by the backing quartet onstage, and as sharp as the pinpoints of light shooting into the audience throughout the night in a beguiling visual accompaniment.
At other times, especially on the first handful of tunes, that voice was subsumed in an audio murk that occasionally felt curiously intentional. One moment she tumbled along a skittering groove, the next she was prolonging a deathly dirge.
Marshall, sporting a blond/brown mohawk, leaned heavily on tunes from her first album of all new material in six years, the mesmerizingly trip-hoppy “Sun.”
The most electric performances, including the title track and the churning “Peace and Love,” struck a fine balance — a collision of tenderness, pulsating grooves, and vocal passion. Others like “Manhattan” strove for high drama but lacked the tension to keep the somnambulance at bay. (And sometimes what works late at night on headphones is difficult to translate to a crowd standing in a hall.)
Backlit by a white light and singing emotionally in Spanish for part of the song, Marshall did imbue “Angelitos Negros,” a cover of a Pedro Infante track, with a kind of riveting pathos that kept the song afloat despite its glacial tempo.
Older tunes ranged from an even-more-languid take on “The Greatest” and a sultry version of the soulful, woozy organ jam “I Don’t Blame You.”
In between sincerely whispered thanks to the supportive crowd, sips of tea, and the tossing of a flowers from a bouquet, Marshall also gave a brief shout-out to late scenester/promoter/man-about-town Billy Ruane.
Xray Eyeballs held down the middle slot, and though energetic, were swallowed whole in their own garagey din, while quirky solo artist Willis Earl Beal handled the opening duties.Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.
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