How much you enjoy a Sun Kil Moon gig these days depends on where you stand regarding Mark Kozelek’s recent acts of on-stage self-sabotage. Over the past year, his wholly unnecessary ongoing feud with The War On Drugs and calling a crowd at a music festival a “bunch of fucking hillbillies” could be viewed as comical and frivolous rather than genuinely offensive but his “bitch” jibe at Guardian journalist Laura Snapes at a recent London gig had more off-colour undertones.
Notable music hacks and fans had had enough and decided to stop listening to his music and long-reads were written online about Kozelek’s supposed nasty side but it gives tonight’s show in the plush and sensible surroundings of the National Concert Hall an added edge. What will he say or do to offend the easily offended? As it turns out, not much. The worst it gets is when he takes a potshot at The Edge’s over-reliance on effects pedals. In fact, Kozelek isn’t all that nasty at all, something he is at pains to point out about himself as having a rough-edged charm and that self-deprecation has always been present in his music and live performances.
For the first two songs, ‘Hey You Bastard, I’m Still Here’ and ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes’, Kozelek – with his back to the audience – opportunistically takes command of the venue’s organ, adding a layer of gravitas to two songs that barely need it in the first place. His three patient bandmates are bathed in a dark purple glow on the stage below him, barely visible. When he joins them, he surveys the first few rows and seems genuinely displeased that, yet again, his audience is made up of mostly thirty and forty-something males. “Get a fucking girlfriend!” he pleads with them and proceeds to count the ratio of men to women in the first row, which only adds to his frustration.
Whatever your views on Kozelek, at least he takes a keen interest in the make-up of his audience and his surroundings. After a somewhat erratic first hour, the show gathers momentum with the confessional story-songs from 2014’s acclaimed Benji album, ‘Carissa’, ‘I Watched The Song Remains The Same’ and the searingly direct ‘I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love’ proving to be the highlights of a three-hour set. There is a tender tribute to Nick Cave’s recent bereavement with a powerful cover of Cave’s ‘The Weeping Song’. It is delivered perfectly – its conventional, linear structure in stark relief to the unpredictable nature of Kozelek’s own work. During the encore there is a rare, under-rehearsed outing for ‘Carry Me, Ohio’. It contains that unbearably beautiful line: “I’ve burned through so many lovers/So why do I still burn for you?”
It’s sometimes hard to reconcile such lyrical sweetness with the guy who said female journalists just want to “fuck him” and wrote the song ‘War on Drugs, Suck My Cock’ but it’s that old Kozelek conundrum that continues to perplex us all.