I arrived at the Opera House half an hour before Sun Kil Moon’s posted set time sort of by accident. I had had a few drinks with a good friend on his last day in town before flying back to California and had a nervous buzz with a touch of melancholy anticipation. The perfect set up for a Sun Kil Moon show, for me anyway. I was alone and without my camera (normally I’m photographing these things), so I sipped another beer and watched the crowd fill in. I liked these people. I liked the vibe. The air felt light, like low pressure before a September storm. The kind you’re happy about because it means you can stay inside alone and fall asleep to the sound of wind and rain.
I have followed Mark Kozelek’s various projects since I was a teenager. “Songs for a Blue Guitar” and “Rollercoaster” have been albums that I always come back to. His most recent Sun Kil Moon project has been met with a surprising level of critical claim. Not to suggest that it is unwarranted, rather unexpected. “Benji” is a collection of deeply personal story songs musing on death and aging, the sort of thing you put on when you’re alone after getting a bad phone call. Maybe the thoughts in these songs are a little more common than the attention they get in most music.
The last time I saw Mark Kozelek it was just him and a classical guitar at Lee’s Palace and he was in a bit of a mood. The music was beautiful and transported me somewhere else, but he hardly spoke except to go off on people for talking or some such thing. Maybe he’s mellowed out over the years or maybe I was right about the crowd, but he started by suggesting we were great, even comparing us favourably to a recent crowd in Carolina. His stripped down acoustic guitar songs were beautifully arranged for a full band that consisted of two drummers, bass, electric guitar and keys. ‘Ben’s my Friend’ was a highlight for me, as it is on the recording, and had a bit of crunch to it reminiscent of 2008’s “April”. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and smile when Mark repeats the line “Blue crab cakes” even though I knew it was coming. The mood for topically heavier songs like ‘Carissa’ and ‘I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love’ was somber but on point, I think due to Kozelek’s relative levity. The lyrically raw ‘Dogs’ just straight up rocked. When I think about it I wish I was back there right now bobbing my head along when the drums kick in and he sings with his almost off key wobble, “Maryanne was my first fuck, she slid down between my legs and oh my God she could suck…”
I can’t call it a complaint but I cannot finish this review without mentioning that Kozelek didn’t really get into any old material. As good as “Benji” is I couldn’t help being mildly disappointed not to hear any of my favourites off “April”, “Tiny Cities”, “Ghosts of the Great Highway”, or even the more recent and quite excellent collaboration with Jimmy Lavalle, “Perils of the Sea”. This is, however, and minor side note to an otherwise excellent experience. If you get the chance to see Sun Kil Moon, do it.
Click here for our review of Sun Kil Moon’s Sunshine in Chicago.
Review by Benjamin Telford | @bentelfordphoto