Sun Kil Moon

support n/a
author LF date 19/08/14 venue Atlas, Aarhus, DEN

It's not very long ago that I reacted to a friend's advice from months back and finally spent some time listening to Sun Kil Moon's album "Benji", which was released in February this year. From my reaction to that experience it was obvious to me that I should not miss out on an opportunity to hear the songs live. The acclaimed singer-songwriter and folk musician Mark Kozelek is the driving force of the project and has received a fair amount of hype recently, not least because of the aforementioned, outstanding release. When he played Copenhagen in April, he sold out in no time. This time around there's two Danish shows, a sold out one in Copenhagen, and another one nearly so in Aarhus. No support act is on the bill for this night's performance at Atlas, so without further ado, I'll jump right to describing my thoughts of the somewhat successful and somewhat problematic Sun Kil Moon show. We bring you no pictures this time, since the artist did not wish to be photographed.

Sun Kil Moon

Twenty minutes late for some unexplained reason, Kozelek and his band enter the stage to modest applause. The venue is almost filled up, and thus a source of much annoyance for me and undoubtedly others throughout the evening, is how it's close to impossible to see any of the band members on the stage if you're not one of the people in the front rows. The main reason for this is that they're all seated, Kozelek and his acoustic guitar as well. He has chosen to place himself in the left side of the stage and as this is the side I stand in as well, I am in luck as I catch a few glimpses of him between swaying silhouettes of audience members. The most striking thing about this, is seeing how far from the microphone he keeps his mouth, while also noticing how loud he still sounds. This however brings me to a second source of annoyance in tonight's performance, namely the fact that Kozelek's voice and also his guitar to some extent are absolutely caked in a strange reverb. This really handicaps the mood of his songs for a good part of the evening, as it strips them of their crucial intimacy, instead sounding distant and way too big for the size of the venue.

Through the set the band plays a selection of songs from Kozelek's more recent material across monikers. Thus we get songs from the two latest Sun Kil Moon releases, a single song from Kozelek's collaboration with indie rockers Desertshore from 2013, and a number of songs from the record he released with Jimmy LaValle (The Album Leaf) last year as well. For three of the songs he notably gets up from his chair, puts down his guitar, and walks around stage while singing, and to me these are the moments when his vocals gather the most power and are actually able to cut through in the immense reverb and create something magical. To be able to see his face as he sings his emotional songs undeniably also helps me to connect with him overall. Among these is "Micheline", my favorite song from "Benji". Instead of the dreamy tone it has on record, it seems to have more power behind it, with Kozelek really sounding out the words with a lot of force. It is a general thing tonight, that his vocal delivery is more openly powerful but just as amazing as what I've heard from him on record, and when it works the best, the immense reverb actually helps to transform the songs and add to their already rich expressions. "Richard Ramirez..." is a case in point, as it is pretty loud and almost aggressive in the way it is played tonight, while still maintaining its intriguing, ominous feel. The greatest thing about the changes in intensity or mood of the songs, is that Kozelek's way of going about it is truly inspirational, as it feels like he is only letting them go through natural, implicit evolutions. He makes me feel like every one of them is a living thing that he is wrestling with continually, despite the fact that they have been fixed in one, specific form on record. Thus he comes across to me as a very involved performer, even as he is completely laid-back bordering on goofy in his banter between songs, joking around with comments about the city of Aarhus, how cool he is at playing guitar, and commenting repeatedly on an audience member up front wearing magnificent, fluorescent shoes.

During the last couple of songs, Kozelek takes the microphone away occasionally and sings with his eyes closed, reaching out for that intimate atmosphere that the huge sound of the music sadly sort of neglects most of the set. The thing is, that despite this hindrance in spontaneously establishing an emotional and intricate connection to us through his music, Kozelek somehow manages anyway. During the extensive and meditative "Ceiling Gazing" that ends the regular set, I find myself completely caught up in the music for the duration of it, a feeling that has only been present in shorter moments during the earlier songs, mostly during "Black Kite" and "Micheline". It feels like either the reverb mixes better and better with the overall setup of the songs, or maybe Kozelek works with it more and more successfully during the set, and as the show is ending with a striking rendition of "I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love", I have no problems at all feeling the sort of magic that I had really hoped the entire set would communicate tonight. At this point, the sound of Sun Kil Moon is somewhat larger than life, and has thus gradually reached a point where the songs feel successfully transformed from introverted, emotional folk rock tunes to actual entities that reach out for their listener in a way that can almost physically be felt. As great a feat as that is however, it comes a little too late, and the overall show doesn't exactly leave me blown away.

7

Setlist:

  • 1. I Know It's Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life
  • 2. Gustavo (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle song)
  • 3. Black Kite
  • 4. Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes
  • 5. Micheline
  • 6. Hey You Bastard I'm Still Here (Desertshore song)
  • 7. I Watched The Film The Song Remains the Same
  • 8. Carissa
  • 9. Caroline (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle song)
  • 10. Elaine
  • 11. By the Time That I Awoke (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle song)
  • 12. Ceiling Gazing (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle song)

- Encore

  • 13. Dogs
  • 14. I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love

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