Live Pop: Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon at the El Rey

Mark Kozelek

By Dave Gebroe

Small caveat: if Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek had spent the duration of Wednesday night’s El Rey performance passing gas, chances are I would have doubled over in fawning supplication. Yes, I am a fan. That being said, I am truly happy I didn’t have to settle for what surely would have been an avant-garde and rather unpleasant method of communicating his bleak world view.

This was a truly respectful, heckler-free crowd. Opener Mia Doi Todd set the tone of morose navel-gazing, and you could cut the solemnity with a butter knife. (Sample lyric: “All of creation is here in my kitchen / soup is on.”) Her mopey tunes of hippie housewife servitude made Vashti Bunyan sound more joyous than “Weird “Al Yankovic.

But Mia did what all good warm-up acts do: she established the mood, but left the crowd wanting for some good songs. From the word go, a thick, hazy gauze of sullen reverb hung over Sun Kil Moon’s performance like a narcotic cloud. Eyes closed, his between-song patter at a bare minimum, Mark Kozelek delivered. This was bare-bones, meat-and-potatoes heartbreak, an intimate, ghostly litany of long-ago people and places conveyed inimitably in Kozelek’s grief-stricken croon. The opener, “Glenn Tipton,” which gradually integrated gentle harmonies and slide guitar into the mix, set the bar high, and by the time he submerged “Last Tide” in a rolling burble of shimmering chimes, three tunes in, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

In a perfectly spot-on Kozlek-esque use of show dynamics, the performance seemed not so much to reach a conclusion as to simply drift to a close. The last half of the encore was just him and his guitar, amiably and cavalierly doing what he does best — basking in soul-bearing heartbreak to the delight of those of us that like that sort of thing.

It’s true — you either love this band, or you most assuredly do not. I do (in fact, Ghosts Of The Great Highway is my favorite album of the millennium thus far), and I cannot think of a better way to spend an idle fifteen minutes than standing amidst an audience of entranced, swaying hipsters in thrall to “Duk Koo Kim.” And if you’re feeling glum, you might want to consider doing the same.

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