So how does one become Mark Kozelek’s friend?
Mark Kozelek is well aware that you think he’s an asshole. He also doesn’t care. When the Portland crowd gave Sun Kil Moon a standing ovation at the end of its first set, Kozelek returned and immediately made a joke about the gesture. “It’s not like I’ve ever had one of those before,” Kozelek said, referring to the audience’s adoration. He then continued on about how you’d never read about that in a review since us writers only like to focus on his negative behavior. And that warms his heart.
Well, there ya go, Mark. I just wrote about that little standing ovation you got here in Portland.
Backed by a band that included Slowdive’s Neil Halstead on guitar and local drummer Scott McPherson, who Kozelek claimed to have only met earlier that day, Sun Kil Moon performed a generous 140 minute set that mainly featured songs from newer albums Benji and Universal Themes, as well as a smattering of covers. Taking the stage 20 minutes later than the posted time, Kozelek began the show with a cover of “Moon River,” immediately snapping, “What’s so funny?!” when the crowd laughed at the selection. He then followed it with a version of “The Christmas Song.”
For a well-known curmudgeon, Kozelek talked a lot about all the friends he has. He said he hates Portland because all his friends from San Francisco moved up here. During the descent into town (the third worst turbulence he’s ever experienced), Kozelek, convinced he was going to die, texted all his friends how much he loved them and his requests for likely missing a dinner at Montage. So how does one become Mark Kozelek’s friend?
Not by shouting out requests for his old songs.
When someone in the back of the theater asked for a Red House Painters selection, things got dark. Already shrouded in shadows, Kozelek’s brow furrowed and yelled back, “Why would I do that? Why would I play a 20-year-old song when I’m playing a set of songs from the past year and a half?” No one requested anything after that.
With his linebacker’s body and fearsome reputation, Kozelek is already an imposing presence. I’ve seen him before and had an idea what to expect that evening. However, he’s begun experimenting with his vocals, introducing a Springsteen sort of bellowing into some of his songs, including “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here” and “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes.” It was intense, startling and even a little bit scary.
Kozelek also seems to have adopted an on-stage persona that’s a bit Andrew “Dice” Clay and part Tony Soprano. He may be from Ohio, but he has a delivery when interacting with the audience that sounds New Jersey or New York, especially when complaining about friends leaving town or all the dudes in the front row (a common occurrence at a Kozelek show). He did get some girls in the front to kiss his hand, though.
So I am guilty of writing more about Kozelek’s antics than the music itself. Musically, the show was excellent, especially the songs from Benji, the album that “Pitchfork brainwashed people into thinking is brilliant,” according to Kozelek. A tender version of “Micheline” was the stand-out of the bunch while a slowed-down “Carissa” somehow became a sing-along. Kozelek spent much of the evening sans instrument, but donned an electric guitar for a haunting version of “Dogs.” A lot of the newer material also sounded great too, except “The Possum,” which felt a little too on the nose. Before closing out the first set with the excellent “This is My First Day and I’m an Indian and I Work at a Gas Station,” Kozelek covered “Send in the Clowns,” one of his three favorite songs of all time. It was gentle and warm, adjectives you never hear to describe the bristly Kozelek.
But seriously, how do you get to be Mark Kozelek’s friend?