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Tony Bennett review: Sun Kil Moon gives honest, endearing performance

You almost hate to have to lead with a mention of Mark Kozelek's current status among music geeks, but given the past couple of months he's had, you gotta.

You almost hate to have to lead with a mention of Mark Kozelek’s current status among music geeks, but given the past couple of months he’s had, you gotta.

After starting off the year by blowing minds and receiving some of the best plaudits of his career with the release of the emotionally devastating “Benji” album, Kozelek - who performs as Sun Kil Moon - blew whatever good will he had banked when he decided to embark upon a campaign of namecalling. Whether he was dubbing concert attendees “hillbillies” and then selling shirts that called them “hillbillies” again or dissing the band The War on Drugs with not one but two mocking songs, Kozelek’s status has done a 180 in the estimation of many.
But so what, really? So someone writes a Pitchfork article that says he’s old (which is in and of itself fairly offensive). So the guy from The War on Drugs is mad that he got called out for being in a boring band. So Kozelek had a bad gig at some festival and took it out on his audience. None of this fundamentally changes the fact that he’s an incredible singer/songwriter, and the crowd at Karpeles Manuscript Museum on Thursday evening was ready to watch a true craftsman ply his trade, not gawk at a crass headline-grabber.
The odd venue choice was a big point of interest when the show was announced, as it’s a place known for hosting drafts of Mark Twain stories and not folky indie-rock concerts. But there everyone was. The museum was a perfect place for this particular bill, with its high domed ceiling and pew-like seats.
Normally, openers Low would be a headlining act, but Alan Sparhawk and company did his former bandmate in Retribution Gospel Choir a solid by warming up the crowd. Their set was reserved for the first few numbers, and then the band blew a hole in things with the near-stoner-rock back half of “On My Own.” Throughout their 45-minute set, they were predictably on point and gorgeous.
Kozelek came on stage after a brief intermission and went into something resembling a warped stand-up routine. It was strange, but also immediately endearing. He muttered and rambled, referencing the beauty of Duluth, his friendship with Sparhawk, and, yes, his recent run-ins with bad press. “I’m funny!” he announced at one point. And then, with no warning, he began singing the song “Micheline” a capella. The tune, like much of the material from “Benji,” was deeply serious and lump-in-throat evocative. Throughout the evening, humorous mumbled monologues and dead-serious music were alternated, with Kozelek referencing his war with The War On Drugs multiple times. It was clearly still on his mind, and it seemed that perhaps he himself wasn’t sure what to make of it all quite yet.
But his music was the real attraction. Songs like “I Watched the Film ‘The Song Remains the Same’” and “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” transfixed the 200 or so attendees, stunning them from chuckles and between-song chatter into rapt silence. Kozelek’s flamenco playing was impressive, and his detailed lyrics were made all the more hair-raising in a live setting. His smooth, dark voice was as good as it is on his albums.
The evening also featured a bit of Christmas music from Kozelek, both early on with a solo vocal performance and later with Sparhawk joining in. The fairly off-the cuff pairing was light and loose and fun.
In all, it was a fantastic evening of music in a beautiful venue with some truly remarkable musicians.

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at tonybennettreviews@ ¬gmail.com.

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