Gig Review by Toni Woodward

On the hottest day of the year, entering a sold out small venue was not all that appealing but the talents of Sun Kil Moon were what persuaded me to venture into the sweatbox. Sun Kil Moon is the vocalist and guitarist Mark Kozelek who has been making records under this moniker for the past fourteen years or so.

Prior to the band’s entrance the venue closes the bar, dims the light and continues to play abstract instrumental music for a further fifteen minutes and just as the audience become fidgety, the four-piece group take to the intimate stage. Kozelek explains that he is feeling ill but is planning to take on board the words of Mike Tyson’s trainer, Cus D’Amato who proposed that to be a professional you have to perform to the best of your ability and with these words of wisdom the music begins.

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The first track, of what will become an epic length set, is Somehow The Wonder Of Life Prevails taken from the album Perils Of The Sea on which Kozelek collaborated with Jimmy Lavelle. Kozelek’s vocal style is hard to describe as it has a laziness about it that presents an illusion of being fractionally behind the beat add to this his inimitable gruff quality you have an awesome voice. To elevate this further, Kozelek’s talent at writing in depth descriptions and stories are unique; there are obvious connections that one could make with the likes of Nick Cave, Neil Young and Suzanne Vega yet none of these truly do justice to his own niche that he has created in American folk music.

Mark Kozelek is renowned for being curmudgeonly and outspoken so initially I was concerned with the additional sickness that it could result in an ill-fated gig, my concerns were misguided and this becomes obvious with his humorous between song banter. These amusements cover an array of topics from the changes he has seen in Birmingham over the past twenty years to his envy of Mick Jagger all of which have the audience laughing and demonstrate his apparent sharp wit and intellect.

The second song is a cover of Frank Sinatra’s Somethin’ Stupid, which apparently is “just for fun” and not the only cover that we are treated to this evening. Kozelek prowls the width of the stage with a menacing air noticing empty chairs and questioning why people aren’t sat in them but at the same time with utter ease maintaining his vocal performance whilst moving furniture around or sitting down with his feet up on a monitor.

You can tell from Sun Kil Moon’s back catalogue that Mark Kozelek is a prolific songwriter and he performs new songs for us, one of which was only written a few days ago in Antwerp (another source of entertainment for him) about his time in Portugal. As with all of his songs, Kozelek creates the visual through his use of vocabulary as the musical line often tends towards the more repetitive but that is not say boring or simplistic. The band that Kozelek has with him tonight include Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth, with whom SKM has collaborated with recently, and who produces a sensitive and steady beat occasionally being called to readjust by Mark to ensure the vocal delivery is top notch. Ben Boye is a phenomenal keyboard player who has toured with other musicians of a similar musical vein such as Ryler Walker, and approaches Kozelek’s music with utter sympathy often adding subtle arpeggio style patterns underneath that produce an undeniable depth. The final member of the band is Nick Zubeck who plays six string bass and provides backing harmonies at various points, both of which, again, add strength to the music without being overbearing in any way.

The Possum is a prime example of how effectively the band work as a unit to enhance Kozelek’s vocals, instinctively increasing the volume and intensity before breaking into a mellow section that assumes a jazz like vibe before returning to the original pace. Part way through the set, Justin Broadrick enters the stage to play a selection of songs that he and Kozelek have recently collaborated on Jesu/Sun Kil Moon however, Mark has no issue with getting Broadrick to play a track or two that he has only rehearsed briefly in soundcheck. This organic performance adds to the close and personal nature of what we are witnessing and reiterates the ease of which Kozelek feels upon a stage. So comfortable that he is able to humorously discuss his body describing himself as a Californian raisin and briefly exposing his bitch tits for all to see.

The themes explored through Sun Kil Moon’s lyrics range from his sexual exploits to the rise in gun crime encompassing parental love all of which are presented with complete sincerity and often appear to be him attempting to find an answer to a deeper philosophical searching.

After two and half hours, Kozelek draws the set to a close with America’s Most Wanted noting that the encore would include requests from the audience but when various songs are shouted out he happily dismisses them for an array of reasons but mainly because the band haven’t rehearsed them. The encore has a delayed start as Mark has forgotten his lyrics and sends Steve off to collect them for him whilst the band play the introduction to Somewhere Over The Rainbow which, when the lyric book arrives, takes on an emotionally darker air than the original before leading into the track of the night, Garden Of Lavender. This song is taken from Universal Themes and is gut-wrenching beauty, with its meandering background melody and chord progression.

Kozelek offers the audience a choice of numbers, a Lou Reed cover that he has been working on, a new song or a member of the audience to join him for a version of I Got You Babe. I have to admit I was desperate to volunteer for the final selection but the audience clearly wanted to hear a Kozelek original and I wasn’t quite brave enough. They also got the Lou Reed cover too, Hang Onto Your Emotions that sounds “more like a Springsteen song” than a Lou Reed track, unfortunately as SKM have now been playing for over three hours and it is getting on for midnight, I have to leave not because I want to but due to other obligations. I have only recently started exploring SKM’s work and Kozelek is a truly fascinating artist on record and his brilliance has been evidenced further by this performance. Considering he is ill, I can’t imagine how awesome his delivery would be if he was firing on all cylinders.

One Response to “Sun Kil Moon at The Glee Club, Birmingham, UK – 19th July 2016”

  1. AG Says:

    I was fortunate enough to be at this gig, have been a fan of Red House Painters for a long time and of Sun Kil Moon and MK’s more recent stuff. Couldn’t believe how good the guys voice is!

    Very long gig with a fair few songs I’d not heard before, but never got boring.

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