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Cat Power

Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, has the most dubious reputation for live performance of any national touring act since the Replacements. While it was de rigueur for the legendary '80s Minneapolitan geniuses/underachievers to show up so drunk that they could barely stand up, let alone play, nearly all reports contend that Marshall is victim to a stage fright that edges into paralysis. Talk about the Peter Principle in action: Imagine a spot-welder afraid of sparks, a lawyer who fainted at the sight of a judge, or a golfer like Steve Elkington, who is allergic to grass. But since her image is that of the saddest and most fragile of singer-songwriters, leeching herself of emotional pain for the audience's voyeuristic pleasure, the infamous jackrabbit-in-the-headlights aspect of her shows actually seems to drive up her stock.

All of which is too bad, because contrary to the general consensus, there's more to Cat Power than uncut misery. Several songs on her most recent disc are downright peppy ("Free" in particular is an almost Go-Gos-like romp), and The Covers Record of a few years ago displayed an artist both acutely aware of tradition and utterly compulsive about subverting it.

And despite Marshall's reputation, the Cat Power show I saw recently was intimate and moving, both funny and harrowing, and it lasted an hour or more. Because I saw her on a good night, part of me wants to contend that it's refreshing for an artist to go on stage, "be for real" and damn the consequences rather than giving the same market-tested, tight, predictable show night after night. I'm even tempted to suggest that Cat Power's live erraticism is simply a by-product of her genuineness, the very aspect that makes her music compelling in the first place. But then again, I've never suffered the indignity of paying good money to witness one of her extended panic attacks. Heck, I even caught the Replacements on a good night. -- Scott Faingold

Friday, September 17, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.Sloan, with Robbers on High Street

If you've never heard of Sloan, you can blame Kurt Cobain. After their hooky Beatlesque power pop made Sloan one of Canada's most successful bands in the early '90s, they were signed by DGC. But in the wake of grunge, the label failed to market the Nova Scotia foursome's national debut, Smeared.Their sophomore DGC release, Twice Removed, received the same treatment -- the label demanded a heavier, noisier record rather than one that offered the light, bright sound that got them signed in the first place. Sloan prevailed, and Twice Removedwas met with an onslaught of critical acclaim and was even named the Best Canadian Album of All Time in a poll by Chart magazine. But the across-the-board praise was unable to generate sales for yet another unpromoted endeavor.

Fast-forward ten years. Sloan has stuck to its guns and is now touted as one of music's greats. The band's staying power has been rewarded, and its perfect pure-pop now graces an age that gives well-crafted lighter tunes (à la Shins and Death Cab for Cutie) the respect they've always deserved. Having just finished a tour with Aussie retro-rockers Jet, Sloan is poised to become what DGC never gave the band an opportunity to be: huge. -- Brian McManus

Saturday, September 18, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.Incubus

Talk about poor timing: Rage Against the Machine imploded as a band just when its politically charged sonic rants would have found a receptive audience. But stepping into that void -- and doing surprisingly well at it -- is SoCal hybrid-genre band Incubus.

The band's latest, A Crow Left of the Murder, is by far its most aggressive and muscular effort. Rising above the alt-rock tensions (and occasional pretensions) of the previous Make Yourself and Morning View, the band finally broke out of the rock-bands-with-a-DJ pack. Attracting most of the attention right now is "Megalomaniac," with its vaguely anti-Bush lyrics ("You're no Jesus / You're no fucking Elvis / Wash your hands clean of yourself baby / And step down! Step down!) and explicitly but innovatively done anti-Bush video. Singer-lyricist-dreamy pinup Brandon Boyd -- along with the rest of Incubus -- is genuinely pissed off about the state of affairs in this country, and a number of tracks on Crow explore the band's discontent. (Boyd calls his pen a "patriot's weapon of choice" in "Pistola.") Yes, millionaire rock stars bemoaning materialism ("Zee Deveel") and trashing pop culture ("Take Shows on Mute") are tiresome, but Incubus at least makes the excursions interesting musically. And when Boyd and the boys go psycho on relationships, as they do on "Beware! Criminal," or get mushy on "Southern Girl," at least they do so with panache.

Incubus is clearly developing, not stagnating (Staind, anyone?), and is one of the few to have played both Ozzfest and Moby's Area: One festivals. But given the nature of Crow, don't look for noted Houston hard rock fan Barbara Bush to be ogling Boyd's six-pack from the front row. -- Bob Ruggiero

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