There’s a moment about twenty minutes into Sun Kil Moon’s three-hour show at Dublin’s Vicar Street when Mark Kozelek has his first whinge of the evening. After expressing his deep hatred of The Edge’s guitar playing, he goes on to berate U2 and bands like them for taking classic albums out on tour. Instead, Kozelek prefers to continually create the best work he can rather than feeding off the glory days of the past. That’s a worthy mission, of course, but the irony in Kozelek’s rant is that he himself has released so much below-par music in the last few years that it is starting to threaten his own legacy. Between his own work and collaborations with others, he has put his name to four (FOUR!) albums this year alone. And there’s more to come: tonight’s show is peppered with new songs, some unfinished, written in the last few weeks – or even days – for another new album next year. For Kozelek, too much is not enough and it’s impossible to keep up anymore.
Confusingly, he plays songs from his collaborative albums under his Sun Kil Moon guise. Tonight’s opening song ‘Daffodils’ is from his album with Parquet Courts’ Sean Yeaton and it’s pretty dreadful – a tuneless dirge that goes nowhere. Next up is ‘The Black Butterfly’ from his collaboration with Ben Boye and Dirty Three’s Jim White which isn’t much better, sounding almost indistinguishable from what went before it. ‘Blood Test’ is an improvement as Kozelek taps into the weird political climate currently at play as he pleads to ‘show each other love’ and ‘rise above’. ‘Linda Blair’ is puerile nonsense about being annoyed by a kid on a plane with a ferocious cough but at least it raises a laugh. Then the Kozelek of old returns with the sweetly affecting ballad ‘My Love For You Is Undying’, one of the night’s (few) highlights. The epic ‘The Possum’ and a full-on ‘Dogs’ allow the band accompanying Kozelek to show their mettle, with Kozelek and band letting their inner Neil Young reign to full effect.
Two and a half hours have passed and we haven’t even reached the encore. When we do, it’s another new one ‘House Cat’, a forgettable collaborative effort with Boye/White along with ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ for the Irish audience. The sadly introspective ‘Ceiling Gazing’ – a co-write with the Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle from their excellent 2013 album Perils From The Sea (keep up) – ends the show on a positive note but can’t fully rescue what’s turned out to be a wildly uneven and self-indulgent night that felt more like an endurance test than anything else.
To even his own die-hard fans, Kozelek remains an infuriating conundrum. On stage he veers from truculent and self-obsessed (We get it, Mark. You’re 50. We all get older) to funny and charming, bolstered by an edgy onstage charisma. His output has always been maddeningly inconsistent but when he’s on form Kozelek’s songwriting is peerless, exquisitely wrought and heartrendingly beautiful. On a good day, he’s untouchable. Sadly those days are becoming fewer and far between.
Sun Kil Moon photographed for State by Shannon McClean