Gig Review: Mark Kozelek @ Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester, 30th October 2007

With JustHipper on her sick bed this week I went alone to the Dancehouse Theatre last Tuesday night for a rare opportunity to see Mark Kozelek, he of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon fame, live in concert for only the second time in my life and a good 13 or so years since I saw Red House Painters at the much missed Duchess Of York in Leeds. Looking back I’d say that JustHipper might have been better off back at home as to enjoy the Kozelek live, acoustic experience you’d have to be on more than just nodding terms with much of his back catalogue and while I am, she certainly isn’t. There are some sizeable gaps in my Kozelek record collection, however, notably his AC/DC and Modest Mouse covers albums, probably because I’m a fan of neither band and can’t imagine that even Mark Kozelek can make them sound good.

Kozelek cut quite an imposing figure as he strode onto the stage and took his seat. He’s a muscular guy. I imagine he enjoys surfing. Like Jack Johnson. He tuned his guitar to a different tuning – it’s the first song; why wasn’t the guitar already tuned? Anyway, he kicked off with “Salvador Sanchez” off his brilliant Sun Kil Moon album Ghosts Of The Great Highway and he sounded fantastic, his big hands picking out beautiful melodies from his acoustic guitar while his voice was pure, effortless and perfectly tuned. For the second song he was joined by Red House Painters guitarist Phil Carney and for the rest of the set their guitars dovetailed beautifully.

There was plenty in the set that I didn’t recognise: the Modest Mouse cover “Tiny Cities” was surprisingly good, “Trucker’s Atlas” had me wondering where I could get hold of it (doh, it’s Modest Mouse again) and there was what I assume is a new song that mentioned all sorts of European cities that was also rather pleasing to these ears. Things did however start to drag a little as time wore on. All the songs were similarly paced and were punctuated by long periods of guitar tuning and little chat. He spoke to the audience occasionally; there was a conversation about the forthcoming Ricky Hatton fight with Floyd Mayweather and some advice for one punter with a bad cough to go to see the doctor. There were meandering versions of “Gentle Moon” and “Carry Me Ohio” from Ghosts, the songs’ taut melodies loosened and stretched to their detriment. My mind started to wander and I became acutely aware of how uncomfortable the seats in the Dancehouse Theatre were and of how warm it was in the venue. I suppose if the seats where softer and they had just a little of what you could call legroom then a few people may have found themelves nodding off.

Fortunately the gig ended on a high with a brilliant reading of “Duk Koo Kim” which ended abruptly with Kozelek dropping his guitar to the ground and stomping off. The lights went up but the crowd were unperturbed and eventually he returned to play “What’s Next To The Moon,” which, for me, was a revelation: how he can make an AC/DC song sound like Leonard Cohen in his prime is beyond me. He finished with a superb “Mistress” and that was that. As great as it was in parts, I left feeling slightly underwhelmed by the performance as a whole. I don’t know if he ever plays with a full band these days but, if he did, I imagine it would be a much more rewarding experience than this.

Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio

Mark Kozelek – Salvador Sanchez (live)

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