Willis Earl Beal, Xray Eyeballs and Cat Power Play Boston’s House of Blues
On October 24 three very distinct acts played Boston’s House of Blues. Headlining the tour was Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power - an Atlanta born singer-songwriter who has been active for more than two decades and has ten albums to her name. Opening for Marshall was experimental singer Willis Earl Beal and the 50s punk revival band Xray Eyeballs.
First to appear on stage was the unforgettable Beal, who wore tight black jeans, cowboy boots, Ray-Ban wayfarers and a T-shirt that said "NOBODY" with a picture of a face with x’s for eyes. Two mannequins in flapper garb were placed on each side of the stage, apparently as his "backup dancers"
"They dance real good. That’s why I picked them for this tour," Beal said. "And they don’t talk back," the singer-songwriter Chicago musician added.
When Beal started, he opened up with a "prayer to the church of nobody." It was at that moment when the audience realized they were dealing with a unique but deeply troubled genius (much like Cat Power herself). Beal began to sing his "prayer" and showcased his impressive, deep and raw vocals. After he finished up he turned on his reel-to-reel, which provided all the music for his songs.
He then launched into the rest of his set where he played a number of cuts from his 2012 debut LP "Acousmatic Sorcery," including "Cosmic Queries," "Take Me Away" and "Evening’s Kiss." Beal’s energy left a strong impression as he wore a cape with his signature face and "NOBODY" written on it and danced around on stage like a possessed man. At one point he was singing so intensely, his sunglasses flew off his face. At another moment, Beal fell off a chair while balancing a drink on his knee - but he didn’t stop singing and didn’t miss a single note. It was like watching a crazy Tom Waits who had the swag of Miguel but listened to one too many Muddy Waters records.
At the end of his show, the singer left the crowd with some words of wisdom: "If you want anything you have to use this," he said pointing to his heart and then his head. "You don’t get things by asking. Cat Power has been my role model for years," he continued, "and she came to me for this tour. I just put out my music. Have a good day everyone."
Next up was Xray Eyeballs, a Brooklyn punk rival four piece that were completely faceless and served up uninspired, pandering music. The group’s gimmicky lineup features two strikingly gorgeous women rockers and two scrawny dudes. It was confusing from the get go as the band never introduced themselves and did not made it clear who was fronting the band. The aloof air surrounding them was extremely off putting but their tunes weren’t good enough to back up their "I don’t give a fuck attitude."
They played about eight songs that pretty much sounded identical to each other and proved themselves to be another Brooklyn indie 50s punk rock wannabe band -- one of several. They did nothing to make their music different from the current trend in indie rock and by the end of their set it was easy to view them as a less talented Dum Dum Girls.
Cat Power started soon after Xray Eyeballs cleaned up their equipment. Before Marshall come on, a stagehand placed incense that smelled like toasted vanilla on a stool. Finally, the singer emerged wearing a black leather jacket, black jeans and a black T-shirt but most strikingly visual was her hair -- bleached blonde and shaved into a mohawk.
She grabbed the microphone and set off on her first song, "Cherokee," the single from her latest record "Sun." Cat Power’s visuals were surprisingly incredible. Behind her was a silk screen that projected a number of different images throughout the show, including rolling clouds through a bright blue sky, a rising sun and photographs of starving children from third world countries.
Most of the tracks Marshall performed were from "Sun," including the album’s title track, "3,6,9," "Always On My Own," "Human Being," "Manhattan," "Silent Machine" and "Nothin But Time." She closed her show with the album’s biggest standouts, the almost-rap "Peace and Love," where Marshall opened an umbrella that said "99%," on it, and the record’s lead single "Ruin," which was easily the show’s highlight.
Other songs included a cover of a Portuguese ballad that turned into an extremely touching moment. Cat Power was covered in a white light and smoke from dry ice surrounded her. Although most of the audience couldn’t understand the lyrics, Marshall’s magnificent voice moved everyone there. She also sang reworkings of older songs, "I Don’t Blame You" and "The Greatest." But they were changed so much they were almost unrecognizable. She turned powerful career highlights into sleepy ballads that fell flat.
By the end of the show, it was clear that Marshall was sick -- her face was covered in a cold sweat and she had been coughing in between songs and sometimes even between lyrics. She drank about four cups of tea during a nearly two-hour concert and spoke very little. When she finished, she handed out flowers to audience members and took a bow. She told her backing band to join her and they thanked the crowd for coming out and soon disappeared off stage.
Despite several reports that claim Cat Power is a terrible performer, due to extreme stage fright, Marshall exhibited no insecurities. In fact, it was quite the opposite; she proved to be classy singer that had a well-tuned set put together. The days of a chaotic messy show are behind her and now the singer, who is 40, is at the top of her game.