Itâ€™s a cold February evening and the phones at the Eleventh Avenue Lexus dealership have been silent for hours. Around the corner at Terminal 5, three thousand city dwelling Cat Power fans are shifting anxiously in place.
The venue isnâ€™t a casino and yet everyone is gambling. They are gambling that this is going to be one of Chan Marshallâ€™s good nights and they are betting that the cavernous balconies of Terminal 5 will magically transform into the kind of warm and intimate venue a Cat Power show should be held in. For a number of reasons, neither bet would pay off.
Chan Marshall is both beautiful and talented, but isnâ€™t known for her live performances. She has battled crippling stage fright for years and, very much to her credit, sheâ€™s come a long way. Just how far she has come was put to the test by the logistical nightmare that was Terminal 5.
Throughout the set, Marshallâ€™s vocals were too low. Though the levels did improve slightly, the problem persisted and was exacerbated by frequent screeching feedback during nearly every song. The sound issues were so destructive to the atmosphere that large groups of people repeatedly yelled â€œwe canâ€™t hear you!â€ and â€œfire the sound guy!â€ throughout the show. A more charismatic, less introverted performer might have been able to make light of these problems with humor or chutzpah, but no one expects this from Chan Marshall. What they do expect is a beautiful sounding set. Though she was clearly frustrated, Marshall responded with grace and played through her encore with little complaint.
The fact of the matter is that Cat Power shows donâ€™t sell out because Chan has wonderful performance presence. They sell out because people love her music (and her) enough to buy, travel and listen to it no matter what she does on stage. But if you canâ€™t enjoy the music, thereâ€™s nothing left to save the show.
This was a huge disappointment. I like Cat Power and, like many other people, I wondered who among her management thought it would be a good idea for her to play Terminal 5. The venue is cavernous and atmospherically cold and despite an extensive renovation since its former life as mega-club Exit, it lacks the warmth and intimacy of Manhattans older venues like Beacon Theater or Hammerstein Ballroom. Though the design of the space is perfect for a nightclub, the hard sightlines, narrow stairways and low ceilings are counterproductive to the intimacy most singer songwriters depend on for their live shows.
Iâ€™ve been to Terminal 5 several times and, though the sound has never been stellar, it has never completely ruined a concert. The sound wasnâ€™t the only problem – it was simply the biggest one.
Though the concert going experience was awful, the photography went quite well. I had heard from a friend in London that Cat Powerâ€™s tour manager made the photographers sit down in the pit for the entire shoot. Luckily this wasnâ€™t the case.
By the time I got down to the floor, doves of photographer were already nearly shoulder to shoulder in the pit. This was the largest photo turnout Iâ€™d experienced outside of a festival. Luckily, we were given the normal â€œthree songs, no flashâ€ with no unreasonable restrictions on movement. This turned out to be the saving grace of the gig as Marshall moved constantly during the first three songs.
The lighting setup was incredibly straight forward. Neutral frontlighting dominated while magenta and red atmospherics came from behind. Waterhazers were used sparing during the first three.
I shot the entire set with the Canon EOS-1D Mark III. The wide end of the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 proved perfect for full length shots while the 70-200mm f/2.8 allowed me to keep Marshall in my sights when she moved downstage.
The entire set was shot at ISO 3200 and 1/160 at f/2.8. Though the exposure was spot on, I should have opted for a slightly underexposed image with a higher shutter speed. Though none of her movements were particularly fast, Chanâ€™s constant pacing created just enough motion blur to render over half of my shots useless.