In the wake of the civil unrest in Ferguson, musicians have taken to our streets to help heal the troubled community. Billy Bragg made an impulse stop through St. Louis to perform at The Royale. Talib Kweli joined protesters and argued with reporters for fueling the fire. Nelly returned home to show solidarity. And Chan Marshall flew her band to St. Louis to perform two shows at The Firebird this past Sunday night. Ticket sales and donations from these shows went to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, who’ve been instrumental in helping the families in Ferguson. These events are important. The art that happens as a result is important. If Neil Young hadn’t written “Ohio” with CSNY I’m not so sure how often I would think of that tragedy at Kent State, honestly.
The bushy-headed Nico Turner, best known for her work with VOICESVOICES, opened the evening with a handful of songs that often flirted closely with spoken word. When she sang she frequently revisited her spooky vocal effect that was similar to Damien Jurado’s “Fox Box.” Nico went to Kansas City to stay with her mother after her previous tour with Cat Power. One month later the controversial death of Michael Brown brought deep societal issues in Ferguson to a head. Nico explained how shook she was from the events in Ferguson, a place she considers close to home. She later joined Chan’s Dirty Delta Blues Band on bass for the second Cat Power set of the evening.
Before addressing the room, Chan casually taped a setlist to her mic stand that proved to be more so a loose blueprint. During her first show Chan asked the audience if they made it to the protests. It appeared about half of the audience had. There was little talk about Ferguson beyond that. There were no inspiring speeches or quotable takeaways exactly, but she found plenty of times to make her connection in song.
After the first few notes of “Good Woman” the audience cheered and Chan immediately stopped. It was as though she was shying away from any widespread approval. She quickly explained that the chords were too similar to the song before it and never returned to see it through. I suspect she didn’t want to give Cat Power fans what they wanted but rather Ferguson supporters what they needed. It was plain to see that she felt compelled to make each of these two shows something special and very different from each other. This night clearly meant a great deal to her. She genuinely wanted to be here and help evoke change. That was as inspiring as her cover-heavy set, which included Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love.”
She also kept incessantly asking the sound guy if he was mad at her. He laughed, we laughed, and she kept asking. The audience got a rise out of Chan’s peculiar banter. She was in good company. We all were.
Photos by Abby Gillardi