Sun Kil Moon, aka Mark Kozelek, is one of the greatest musical storytellers performing today. Through acoustic instrumentation and simple, repetitive arrangements he lays an aural canvas to paint powerful images on. However, these images are not painted but rather sung through deep, emotional and shockingly real stories from Kozelek’s life. His music falls somewhere between Elliot Smith and Leonard Cohen, with a charismatically unapologetic personality that bleeds through on stage. His tracks are long and his narratives are rich, but the experience he gives in a live show is personal, unique and unreproducible.
“Smoking causes blindness. I paid $32 for a box that says smoking causes blindness,” he improvised as he sung, a lit cigarette in one hand and a microphone in the other.
Kozelek’s performance was almost hypnotic. With just him on stage alongside friend and pianist Ben Boye, the Lansdowne’s dim lighting drew the audience in. Everyone was silent. For the Lansdowne, this typically signals a boring and unexciting act. However, as one bartender noted, this show was “very different.” A motionless sea of people watched, enthralled as Kozelek sang his songs and told his stories. These varied from tales about the typical middle-age life, unisex bathrooms and America’s international political reputation, before veering into the morbid, with stories of the death of loved ones to cancer, all during songs like his twenty-minute favourite ‘Bay of Kotor’. Throughout all this frank discussion of life and its oddities, elements of his humour crept in.
“I’m not playing guitar tonight because I hurt my hand trying to jerk off last night. When you’re 52 it’s hard to jerk off. You’re all laughing but I’m not fucking around here.”
The oversight of the night was that the venue, the Lansdowne Hotel, was unsuited for Kozelek’s show, something that Kozelek made clear. Either his touring agency hadn’t properly scouted the Lansdowne or the Lansdowne hadn’t properly scouted Sun Kil Moon. The clanging of the upstairs bar mixed with the cacophony of the downstairs pub trivia night to infected the surreal set. Sun Kil Moon is a bizarre but poetic experience and Kozelek is a quirky but profound lyricist. Ultimately, the fact that the young Chippendale audience stood for three hours to watch a middle age man from Ohio tell stories is a testimony to his talent.
“I’m used to playing the Opera House. I’ve got alligator leather shoes and a $17 000 jacket. I’m a little overdressed, but this fucking $7 music stand needs to go.”
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The disconnect between venue and performer did lead to some unique moments. $2 tinsel with muted red and blue lights decorated the tiny set. The crowd was decades younger than Kozelek, who sang of growing old. The rundown bar aesthetic gave the soulful performance a grit that is otherwise lacking. Impromptu lines like “I never got to see the Outback or visit Bon Scott’s grave,” made the audience feel like they were part of the act by inspiring his improvisation. Combined with his jazzy pianist, it became not too dissimilar to the boozy barroom performances of early Tom Waits. What would normally be a series of overwrought ballads became more grounded in Kozelek’s vulnerability. Without any glitz or glamour, his music transformed from therapeutic autobiographies to lessons from an aging man to the next generation.
“I want to play just another song because after this I have to go to that dank backstage area with cockroaches crawling around in my luggage. This is an exceptionally nice audience and nice people make me want to stay around another 10 minutes before I have to go back to my life and go back to this hostel they’re putting me in.”
With such an intimate setting, Kozelek had the crowd’s undivided attention. This enabled him to engage them with humour and passion. Whether it was ranting about girls from the previous show “speaking Australian” and saying he’s from the South, to which he informed the audience “I’m not from the fucking South any more than you’re from Adelaide,” or to thanking his mum before dedicating a song to her, titled ‘I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love’, he gave the audience something special.
“Scott Morrison, that’s the kind of name that sounds like the kids in Ohio who bullied me. Your politics confuse me, ‘those fucking liberals’. It’s confusing for us Californians.”
The best example of his deep connection to the crowd came during the encore. Extending his show for half an hour because “you guys are nice”, he said, he gave the crowd choices for which songs they wanted to hear. He invited an audience member up on stage, named Lee Sullivan, from The Sleepers, to sing a 1965 Cher classic with him. A standout was the new unrecorded song ‘Spanish Hotels are Echoey’, which was left as a parting gift before he teased an album releasing on 11th October this year.
“Put some fucking rugs on the floor, so lovers can be lovey. It’s not my fucking fault that Spanish hotels are so echoey.”