Dallas Chan Marshall's reputation precedes her.
Over the course of her nearly two-decade career, the singer-songwriter known to fans as Cat Power has become identified with concerts that suddenly, mysteriously collapse, resulting in the myth of a hair-trigger diva, crippled by her fears and barely able to get through an evening's performance without drama. While she may have had difficulty appearing before audiences in the past, her Friday set at South Side Music Hall was anything but labored.
Marshall, who just turned 41 this week, is undertaking a brief, six-date stint across the country, on the heels of having scrapped a planned European tour on account of dealing with financial problems and health issues. Her roughly 80-minute show in Dallas was marked by smiles, and an eagerness to connect with those standing before her.
Indeed, Friday, at the conclusion of 3, 6, 9, Marshall, clad in a denim shirt and dark jeans, and sporting close-cropped blonde hair, knelt at the foot of the stage, took a fan's outstretched LP, and signed it, sending the man back in the crowd, beaming. She could hardly keep the smile from her own face.
Intensely focused on peeling back the layers of her songs and rendering them anew, Marshall and her four-piece band opened with an arresting take on The Greatest, the title track from Cat Power's 2006 album. The rest of the evening was fueled by material from last year's Sun, including the gorgeous Manhattan and the abrasive Cherokee. The emphasis seemed to be on symbiosis between performer and audience: One of the most stirring moments came during the unreleased Bully, which found Marshall holding up a lighter, and a few scattered flames were held aloft in the crowd as well.
An evening that could've been fraught with tension instead became like waiting for an explosion that never detonated. Marshall didn't speak much between songs, offering faintly audible thanks to the few hundred gathered. The prevailing mood was contemplative, and it's not too much of a stretch to consider it grateful as well -- on both sides of the microphone.