Sound Bites DIVINE FELINE: A few years back, a small group of indie rock dweebs gathered at the late and lamented Sound Addict record store on North Stone Avenue to see a performance by a woman who called herself Cat Power.

Most of us didn't really know that much about her--just that she was supposed to be painfully shy, sometimes even performing with her back to the audience, even though her shows usually consisted of just her singing over her own acoustic guitar strum. Most of us had also read accounts of how these live shows were amazingly riveting.

There was a slightly uncomfortable sense of anticipation in the air. We all seemed to share the feeling we were about to witness something both difficult to watch and important to hear. I don't even remember who opened the show; we were all there to see a car wreck of a performance.

Cat Power, a.k.a. singer/songwriter Chan Marshall, never showed. While the cause of the no-show was later revealed as a booking miscommunication, it wouldn't have surprised anyone if she'd simply decided not to show. Her reputation preceded her.

In those earlier days, her recorded band consisted of guitarist Tim Foljahn and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, and in 1996 alone Cat Power released two singles and two full-length albums (one of those, Myra Lee, was released on Shelley's Smells Like Records). Still, it wasn't until last year's Moon Pix (Matador) that Cat Power "broke," as they say.

Recorded in Australia with two-thirds of an Aussie instro-indie combo called the Dirty Three (guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White), the album shows Marshall finally finding her voice. While some had written Cat Power off as being terminally depressing, the new songs--penned after the death of two of Marshall's close friends, no less--find a sense of hope in the utter hopelessness of life.

Indeed, it's a change Marshall herself recognized, as she said in a recent interview in Paper magazine: "These songs are somehow different. I feel like I've switched over: Now, instead of blues, I feel like I'm doing hymns."

The album also shows a seemingly newfound confidence. Where she would often sing-speak or miss notes on earlier albums, Moon Pix shows her completely in control of her voice as it careens from a sultry, melancholic whisper to a banshee-like howl. Not surprisingly, the world at large has now taken notice of the beautiful woman with the captivating voice--virtually every music magazine in existence has since extolled the virtues of Cat Power.

Last year the local legion of indie rock fanatics--along with 100 or so other curious onlookers--finally got a chance to see Cat Power live. Backed by White and former Moby Grape guitarist, Mark Moore, Cat Power's performance at Club Congress was completely riveting, proving Marshall to be one of those rare performers you simply can't take your eyes off of, even though she's standing almost completely still, just playing her guitar and singing her songs.

So call her unpredictable, but don't miss Cat Power's return to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., for a special solo performance at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 8. Cover is $5. Call 622-8848 for details.

MONKEY BUSINESS: As host of Zeitgeist's Jazz at the Institute series, the Mat Bevel Institute has earned a rep as the venue for improvised and experimental music in Tucson. Though not part of the Zeitgeist series, this week the Institute offers up a like-minded program: Andrew Voigt, Morgan Guberman and Aurora Rising.

Voigt is a multi-instrumentalist who works with saxophones, electronics and shakuhachi, and has also written compositions for the Kronos Quartet and his own Rova Saxophone Quartet.

Guberman is a composer and performer of instrumental and electronic solo and chamber music, and his main instrument is the contrabass. He's conjured amazing sounds from the instrument on his recent release, Hamadryas Baboon (Rusted Blade Music), a live, solo contrabass album in which his playing runs the gamut from languid and dreamy to downright abrasive, making stops everywhere in between.

Rising is a soprano vocalist who guests on Baboon. Opening the show is local duo Hypnagogia, featuring Michael Henderson and Jeremy Topp. Ned Schaper (a.k.a. Mat Bevel himself) will present performance art in between sets. Anyone with a propensity toward the avant garde should propel himself toward the institute by 8:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8. The Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave., is located on the east side of Stone Avenue just north of Sixth Street. Admission is $6 at the door.

RIPPIN' TIDE: Pre-summer festival season is in full swing in Tucson, with April alone playing host to the Bob Marley Festival, the International Mariachi Festival, the TAMMIES Club Crawl and the Tucson Folk Festival.

If you've sufficiently recovered for the next round, this week brings an outdoor festival just for the kids (or rather, the young at heart). From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 8, Breakers Waterpark in Marana will double as concert venue when Music & Sun 101 explodes with performances by seven bands, in addition to the usual waterpark fun.

Headlining the event is a performance by ska-laced punk-pop quartet and Mojo recording artists Goldfinger, who will release their third album later this year. Also joining the roster are funky Phoenix faves the Phunk Junkeez, and Capitol Records' Jimmy Eat World, one of the preeminent emo bands around today. Opening honors will be provided by Peel, Tongue Dried Sun, 420 and Hipster Daddy-O and the Handgrenades. Tickets for the festival are $19 in advance from Dillard's (1-800-638-4253), or $25 on the day of the show. And don't forget your sunscreen.

WHITE-HOT BLUES: The University of Arizona Office of Summer Session presents the first ever Desert Blues Concert this week, featuring a trio of internationally renowned blues guitarists: John Jackson, known for his "Piedmont Blues," incorporating elements of country, ragtime, folk, jazz and gospel; boogie-blueswoman Del Rey; and James "Sparky" Rucker, a leading performer and commentator on African-American folk culture.

The concert, which kicks off the summer event series Summerfest '99: Absolutely Arizona, starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 8, at UA Centennial Hall, inside the main gate east of Park Avenue. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for UA students, faculty and staff, and may be purchased in advance at the Centennial Hall box office (621-3341).

A workshop is offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, with participants invited to spend an hour-long session with each of the musicians. Cost is $50, and includes lunch, admission to the concert, and the opportunity to hop onstage for a jam with the musicians and other workshop participants. To register for the workshop, call 626-8200.

LAST NOTE: The rockabilly crowd won't want to miss the return of San Diego faves Deadbolt, who hit the Plaza Pub stage, 20 E. Pennington St., on Saturday, May 8. Locals James Dead start things off with a bang at 9 p.m. Cover is $5. Call the club at 882-0400 for more information. TW

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