VIVID Sydney Opera House Cat Power Plays Dylan

Kate Young
2nd Jun 2023

You know when you're kind of into an artist, I mean you know some of their songs or that one album... not all of them but enough to know that you like them and you would happily go see them perform. Well tonight was like that but double the gamble. Now everyone at least knows one Dylan song, most people's parents have played, I spent a lot of my life in the states and he is like a cultural icon, so I was familiar with Dylan on the other hand, and I’ve been in love with Cat Power aka Chan Marshall’s voice ever since I heard Crossbone Style as a teenager in the 90’s only to rediscover my love for her when she released the album You Are Free in 2003, so I know a little not a lot but I know that heavenly voice of hers anywhere and rightly so. With 30 years of writing, recording, and touring under her belt, Marshall is also known and beloved for her incredible interpretations of other artists' work on albums such as The Covers Record (2000), Jukebox (2008) and last year’s acclaimed Covers. Power has this unique ability to infuse folk, punk, blues and soul with her indelibly dusky voice. Tonight, marks her highly anticipated return to Vivid LIVE with a show like no other.

Dylan’s 1966 concert “Live at the Royal Albert Hall” (which fun fact was actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade hall during Dylan’s 1966 world tour, though early bootlegs attributed the recording to the Royal Albert Hall and so the title just stuck) is one of the most momentous tours in the history of rock & roll – when he electrified his songs, and by doing so enraged his devoted audience. Marshall describes this as “the precipice of time that changed music forever.”  

Tonight Cat Power will bring those songs to the Hall, performing them in the same order as Dylan himself: the first half of the show being an acoustic set before being joined by her electric band for the second half. 

When Marshall takes to the stage it is dimly lit, her silhouetted figure armed with a cup of tea finds her place centre stage. A strict ban on all photography and recording had been put into place, so there were no glaring lights waiting to pounce, that combined with the hush from the crowd made this moment feel like it was suspended in time. As the guitarist started to pluck out the opening pattern to She Belongs To Me Marshall’s vocals float in with the line “She’s got everything she needs/she’s an artist/she don’t look back” which is a sentiment that could easily be applied to her own life, it sent shivers down my spine and from this point I knew that this was going to be more than just a recreation. Marshall doesn’t try to change Dylan’s songs in anyway, she keeps true to form even the running of songs are in their original order, but she doesn’t try to be him either, she uses her voice but still finds a way to embody him. It’s quite an achievement really, to evoke someone’s spirit while still holding your own. 

Known for her searing vulnerability on stage, Marshall performs with emotional complexity – each song is powerful, intimate, as she becomes a vessel for the music itself.

The acoustic first half had everyone cradled within its melodies, a melancholy harmonica joined in the mix adding to the dreaminess of it all.  It felt like I was being cradled and lulled as we made our way through his earlier hits like Visions of JohannaIt's All Over Now, Baby Blue Just Like a Woman and Mr Tambourine Man. Looking around you could see couples reach and hold each other a little bit closer, and there was a male fan just off to my left whom I not quite sure if he knew but was singing aloud to every song, this would normally have annoyed me but it was like a hushed echo that trailed just behind every poetic word Marshall sang. Who knows maybe it was the ghost of Dylan’s past. 

Second half arrived and the rest of the band joined on stage, funny to think that back in 1966 this was the moment that queued such hostility from fans, in 2023 this was when the audience woke up out of the haze. We exploded into   Tell Me Mama that jangling electric guitar got us all aboard that steam train that was heading to partyville where feet were to be stomped and heads were to be nodding along to the drum beat. The whole thing felt like it had been flipped, the first half seemed more terrifying for Marshall where the second half felt like a celebration to the artist she knows and loves. I Don’t Believe You (she acts like we never met) was a reworked original song by Dylan himself and I have to agree the 66 version is way better then 64 version, was one of my favorite tracks of the night. Marshall's short sharp biting lyrics are encased by the twirling organ lines while the harmonica and guitar sing brightly through. Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat got everyone feeling sexy and Like a Rolling Stone had me in tears.

I have to give credit to who ever were in charge of the lighting too, they created a beautiful backdrop that had us all transported to the open fields of a prairie somewhere in the south. As the colours shifted so did our timeline, we went from the blues and purples of a dusk to standing under a clear open night sky with a blue moon shining down upon us, only to awaken to the yellows and pinks of a sunrise. This element paired with the music made us feel like we traveling whilst not moving.

Sadly there was no encore, but to be honest what really could have followed that performance. Along the way there had been a few little comments made by Marshall about her personal life that had me intrigued to now more. Let's just say the lady has been through a lot the last decade or two both with mental and physical health that at the time of watching I didn’t quite understand the extent of just how lucky I was to witness this performance.  Chan Marshall embodies everything it means to be a performer, she has sacrificed so much including her health just to share her gifts to the world and for that I am ever so grateful. Some artists you just never know if it’s going to be the last time you see them live, I guess this is why we have to see as much live music as we can while we can.