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Cat Power Talks Her Love of Bob Dylan, Making Thurston Moore Cry and New Music on the Horizon

"Thurston Moore was in town and he said — he's gonna kill me — but he said 'Mr Tambourine Man' made him cry. Isn't that sweet?"
By Ben Hansen
May 25, 2023
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By Ben Hansen
May 25, 2023
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One of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of the 21st century, Chan Marshall — aka Cat Power — is no stranger to a cover. She's been transforming other people's work into something entirely Power-esque across her entire career, including honing the art on her 2000 album The Covers Record and 2008's Jukebox. In 2022, she again dropped a project devoted to reshaping songs originally sung by others with the aptly titled album Covers, unveiling versions of tracks by Frank Ocean, Nick Cave, Lana Del Rey and Iggy Pop.

Now, Power has embarked on her most ambitious cover-based project yet, covering Bob Dylan's legendary 1996 Royal Albert Hall set in full in 2022 at the titular venue in London. Receiving rapturous praise, the show is a track-by-track recreation of a legendary set that Dylan performed on his first tour after polarising attendees at the Newport Folk Festival with his new electric sound.

Sydney is lucky enough to be the second-ever city to see Power perform this set, with Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert coming to the Sydney Opera House as part of the Vivid Live programConcrete Playground chatted with Marshall before she headed to Australia to discuss why this set is so important to her, the reaction to its debut in London and the new music she has on the way.

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ON WHY SHE CHOSE THIS PARTICULAR BOB DYLAN SET

"I got an offer to play the Royal Albert Hall in London on Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night... and I was like 'well if I play there, I only want to do Dylan's songs'. And that was just a no-brainer of which songs I would do.

I felt pretty alone when I was young — when he was running around being a rockstar and stuff. I wasn't a rockstar, but just knowing that someone was kind of scuzzy, and writing his own shit and saying what he wanted to say and doing his own thing, that was that peer thing he gave people. He narrated and was able to articulate people's points of view during a time of mass confusion and that confusion is the thread of our social constructs."

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ON HEARING THE SET FOR THE FIRST TIME

"It was the film, so it might have been [in] 91 — it was the film Don't Look Back... I just felt transported to this place that reminded me of just floating and thoughts and poetry and the absurd."

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ON THE TEAM SHE PULLED TOGETHER FOR THE SHOW

"We had a rehearsal and I tried to figure out who would be best. Because it's really specific, the style of playing — the heartbeat of that is Bob's style — and on top of that, The Band and that movement of playing. Because I could say that it's a style but there was a certain feeling, I think, that was happening at the time.

I asked my friend Henry Munson, he's playing with me. He's in Arsun's band, he has his own bands, too. But he was, no-brainer, going to be the Bob guitar.

I had never heard the drummer play before or seen him play or met him, but I said 'well, tell me what kind of band he's in before I go jam with him' and [my friend] said 'oh, he's in a Grateful Dead cover band'. And I said 'okay perfect, he sounds great'. "

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ONE DEBUTING THE SET AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL

"Oh my god. So, for me, I'm secondary to the nature of what's happening when I'm doing it — I feel secondary. My major concern is for the song itself.

It's not psychological, it's like I have to do it justice. I don't know. I'm secondary, my physical being is secondary but the song is always the point of me doing what I'm doing. And, I can be very hard on myself but it's the only way that I can be.

In the back of my mind, you know, my consciousness, my awake mind was like 'oh yeah, I'm fucking terrified'. I've never been inside that place. I used to walk around it. I used to stay at the Hotel Columbia across the park from there, you know, the rock 'n' roll hotel or whatever. And I'd always walk around that place. I'd never been inside, and to be able to play there, it was some kind of a magic gift or something. That's how it felt.

It means something individually to me to do those songs in that venue 'cause of how much I loved Bob growing up."

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ON THURSTON MOORE'S REACTION TO THE LONDON SET

"One thing was that, at the end, there were a bunch of friends there and Thurston Moore was in town and he said — he's gonna kill me — but he said 'Mr Tambourine Man' made him cry. Isn't that sweet?"

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ON THE MAGIC OF COVERING OTHER ARTISTS' WORK

"I knew those songs already, as a little kid, so it was like — I don't want to say second nature because, as someone who's loved all kinds of music my whole life and different things besides music, it wasn't second nature to me — it was just familiar and just easy, because it was like being a kid and singing along.

If I play Michael Jackson's song or something, play me the Thriller record, I'm going to sing backup on the whole fucking record with my own harmonies, because I've been singing that shit forever.

And different singers bring different shade or colour, or smell or taste, to the same old song. And that's what speaks to a new generation or a new group of people, just different emulations of one song."

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ON HER CONNECTION TO THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

"I did a record of mine called Moon Pix. I think it was the 25th anniversary. [Editor's note: it was the 20th.] I did another Vivid fest, actually... I have the poster for all two of them. And I hope to get the poster for the third.

The Moon Pix thing was really moving because I was alive, you know. I wasn't dead. I never thought I'd live this much and I was there and it was great and it was beautiful. I was with Mick [Turner, from Dirty Three] and Jim [White, also from Dirty Three] and we were, all three, alive. And it was beautiful, and it was real, and it was really nice."

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ON WHAT'S NEXT FOR CAT POWER

"I'm going right back into the studio and doing my new record.

There's a song called 'Brave Liar', I think it's the good one. Another home recording."

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Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert is coming to the Sydney Opera House for Vivid Live on Wednesday, May 31. Head to Sydney Opera House website for tickets and further details.

Published on May 25, 2023 by Ben Hansen
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