Cat Power Embodies Bob Dylan at the Lobero Theatre

Cat Power performs at the Lobero Theatre on March 6, 2024 (Photo by Rebecca Horrigan)

“She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist / She don’t look back.” Although I’d heard “She Belongs to Me,” one of Bob Dylan’s most-covered tracks, countless times before, when this line purred out of Cat Power’s deep, mysterious soul on Wednesday night at the Lobero, it hit me with a new force.

For starters, the “She” Dylan describes could be Cat Power herself, a bold artist kicking off her 90 minute set of all Bob Dylan songs he performed during his 1966 Royal Albert Concert Hall show (which wasn’t actually performed at that venue; it was a misnamed bootleg album but carried the title nonetheless).

After Chan Marshall, (who goes by Cat Power onstage), was invited to sing at the Royal Albert Concert Hall, the staunch Dylan fan decided to recreate his entire show and subsequently record a whole album covering song by song his famous performance. During that time Dylan was breaking out of the folk scene and following his passion for rock and roll, which felt like a betrayal to many of his steadfast acoustic fans. After Dylan performed the first half of the show that night, full of classic quieter numbers like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” the electric guitar, drums, and organs came out and the fan vitriol came out in equal measure.

While Marshall faced no “fantagonism” in Santa Barbara, her idea for her Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Concert Hall album and tour is a risky one, given Dylan’s large and inscrutable shoes. However, as the song goes, Marshall is an “artist who don’t look back.” Her similarity to Dylan is strong in terms of her desire to create as she pleases. In her show at the Lobero, she managed to straddle a beautiful balance between singing his tracks as we know them, while still making them her own.

Certain verses reached me in new ways. For example, hearing “Just Like a Woman” sung by a woman with the voice of a road-weary angel was a different experience. The breathy, exasperated “breaaakkks just like a little girl” broke me down right along with it. Marshall’s vulnerability is steadfast, from her banter about wondering if she should change into her fancier suit or just “let it roll” in her slacks, to the gentle pleading that spilled forth on her version of the dreamy “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

We can be grateful Marshall decided to just “let it roll.” Her truthful tenderness infused the whole first set, and as her band jumped onto the stage for the electric half, a palpable excitement pulsed from musician to crowd. In the first chords of the Hammond B3 organ to the unabashed electric guitar and giddy drums, it was as if we were finally breaking out of the folk box and plugging in to the thrill of a full band, just like in 1966. However, no shouts of “Judas” rang through the Lobero – the respectful crowd simply swayed in their seats. I was itching to move and groove in bigger ways as Marshall and her band blazed through hits like “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” with the fierce heat of a freshly struck match.  As they launched into closer “Like a Rolling Stone,” Santa Barbaran’s broke out of their demure admiration with a bit more verve, standing up and dancing in their rows.

Marshall ended the show with an admonition to “Please fight the power any chance you get,” and I was reminded of the pivotal role that music plays in the fight. It wasn’t my first time hearing these songs, or reveling in rock and roll, but the show made me fall in love with Dylan’s songwriting all over again. Although we’re in a new time period fighting different battles, Marshall’s honest performance, emotional depth, and unrelenting spirit were unapologetically Dylan and left me inspired to approach our times with a little more of that “rolling stone” energy as well.

Rebecca Horrigan

Written by Rebecca Horrigan

Rebecca is a teacher, writer, and lover of food & wine. She enjoys sharing her travel experiences with the Santa Barbara community.

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