Whoever suggested having Angel Haze open for Cat Power is smarter than I think even they realize. Sure, there's probably a push to get Angel in front of "hip" crowds, crowds that ate up her contemporary/diss-track nemesis Azealia Banks's 212 when they saw it on their Tumblr dashboard last year. But there's something more deeply genius about the pairing than that. This tour, in support of Chan Marshall's eighth studio album, Sun, is somewhat of a remounting of the horse; her last record was released in 2008, and she's been thwarted numerous times over the past decade, including once in September a month after the record dropped, by a handful of hospital stays and a general clusterfuckful of nerves, alcohol abuse, and truly personal shitty luck. By contrast, Sun debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, which makes it the most successful album of her career thus far. She's back, and it's her moment once more.
It's not that crazy to say that Angel Haze, when cast in a certain light, is somewhat of a mini-Chan. The young rapper, who signed to Universal last fall, has been honing her craft via confessional freestyle videos on her YouTube channel since adolescence; over the course of that time, she's had her own demons to battle, including, as she confesses in her music, experiences with sexual assault, mental illnesses in her family, and more. She told me back in August that label reps tried to sign her a few years ago, at age 17, but that she basically collapsed in on herself when presented with the prospect of being in the limelight.
"I shied away from attention really easily, at first," she said. "I wasn't prepared for it, and you have to be prepared for it, the massive amounts of attention, and love, and admiration... and hate. Now I don't give a fuck. I'm completely void of any care that I had about anyone's opinions about me."
Another thing about Angel Haze is that she claims she couldn't give fewer shits about rap as a genre. Her favorite artists are the New Radicals and Jason Mraz. She has expressed admiration for Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams. She supposedly had never heard a Biggie verse until a Hot 97 DJ played one for her during an on-air interview. Angel Haze considers herself way more rock 'n' roll than every release she's ever dropped would suggest. Look back at the quote above, read it to yourself in Cat Power's voice instead of Angel's, and the pairing of two introverted, embattled, wildly talented artists who've found strength through their art isn't so weird when you think about it, is it? I wonder if the two have sat down and had a conversation about life. I would pay money to witness that.
Anyway, for how much I just talked up the comeback angle, Marshall still did seem notably distracted for the first three quarters of her hour-long set, and she did have to re-collect offstage after just about every song, and did back off several of the stronger notes on her opening number, Sun's lead track, "Cherokee." Still, given her past onstage meltdowns, the performance she gave was pretty spectacular. The woman really finds her bedrock center with stomping blues, as she did towards the end of the night with "3, 6, 9," so why she didn't start with a pump-up like that is a mystery. There was a sparkling moment during that song where she pointed to the people on the first balcony to her right (did she know these people? Does it matter?) and seemed to genuinely enjoy their presence. The rest of the set benefitted from that adrenaline rush: she danced a bit, paid loving attention to the folks at her feet, even smiled at a few points. If Fiona can find her stage chi in 2012, so can Cat Power in 2013.
That said, let me get this tangent out of the way now, so it doesn't destroy the rest of the time we have together: Fuck Terminal 5. Seriously. Has anyone heard of a person who has had an A+ experience there since it functioned as a nightclub in the 90s? I would actually put real American currency down on "absolutely not." And I despise betting. The floor of this place seems to be shaped like the bottom of a giant public pool, and thus appropriately gives even a normal to moderately tall person, such as myself, the sensation she is drowning. Also the bar is a snack bar that sells Kashi bars and beef jerky and M&Ms, and there are beer vendors snaking their way through the crowd pretty much the whole show, so this place is basically a miserable mini-sports stadium.
Another thing: A good 80 percent of the people who come to this place most likely went to their last concert at Radio City (one of those Bon Iver shows, probably), so they're all used to assigned seating and therefore care precisely not at all about standing-room concert etiquette and proceed to link arms five people deep, hands full of vodka sodas in clear, squishy plastic cups with little limes in them that "accidentally" spill on you as they shove forward, past you, with a peeved " 'Scuse me," as if they had paid for orchestra seats, thank you very much, and were just collecting their due. And don't even get me started with the 6'7" dudes double-fisting a beer and a squishy cocktail cup cutting a course toward their dates, who are holding spots for them, spots that are all somehow directly in front of you.
And if Cat Power is such a "notoriously" capricious performer, why on this gorgeous, quickly overheating green earth would you book her at a venue where the acoustics suggest that nobody in the building could care less about your performance? Is that some sort of reverse psychology crap? Of course, people blab on through every concert ever staged, but something about the acoustics of this room makes the chatter, even during Marshall's back-to-back ballads, amplified tenfold. The effort it requires to maintain the attention of this horrific bullpen of a floor must be nothing short of Herculean.
The last thing I'll say that truly, truly blows about T5 is that, owing to what I gather is an absurdly early curfew (this place is farther into the boonies than any other venue in NYC, and yet seems to share the same curfew I had in middle school), the set times always end up being obnoxiously (a) early, and (b) totally inflexible. When a venue is as far off into the tundra that is 11th Avenue and West 56th Street, six-to-eight hilly blocks from the nearest subway station, it would stand to reason that a little slack between sets would allow paying customers to still arrive in time to see at least two of three acts, even if the subway is running slow… But no. For future reference, everybody in New York, if the website says the show starts at 8, it means 7:59. For this reason, whatever great things happened during Angel Haze's opening set were tragically lost to the ages (or at least, to despairing dream-bill idealists like me).
Despite Cat Power's strong show, there was one truly disappointing part of this particular performance: the use of a long-winded slideshow depicting scenes of people in India. Marshall is of Native American heritage, so the imagery and soundbytes in her music (e.g., the eagle scream in "Cherokee") are informed by cultural experience, but the use of National Geographic-type photography, especially in a room dominated by white fans, felt a bit heavy-handed and largely unnecessary. This is something we expect from Madonna, not Cat Power! It would have been best to stick to the iTunes Visualizer-type CG animation and expertly crafted light-and-disco-ball show. (Side note: People love the shit out of the giant disco ball in this joint. Is that why we keep subconsciously fooling ourselves into showing up here? The mystery persists.)
Marshall wrapped the show with "Ruin," and there was a mutual, unspoken understanding between her and the room that there would be no encore (probably the most respectful exchange made in the building all night). Angel Haze never came back, as I and probably a few others hoped she would, for the "Manhattan" duet the artists strongly suggested would happen earlier this week when Ryan Hemsworth's remix of the song featured one of her frank, deal-with-it verses. Alas, it was great in theory, though.