Sun Kil Moon
The Tuning Fork, Auckland, NZ
Sunday 28th May, 2017
5/5 stars
Reviewed by: RUBEN MITA

 

The musical experience a Sun Kil Moon concert provides is quite unlike anything else. Since fronting Red House Painters throughout the 90’s and later taking up his current moniker, solo artist in all-but-name Mark Kozelek has grown to be an imposing presence. At the doors of the Tuning Fork on Sunday night we were told firmly that the artist had requested all phones to be off (fair enough), and I noticed that no photographers were allowed either, in line with Kozelek’s famous distaste for the media as documented extensively on the latest Sun Kil Moon album, February’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood.

This show, in a tiny venue by his usual standards, was special before it even began, as it was Kozelek’s first live performance since releasing that album and another collaborative effort since. This meant both the live debuts of many tracks and the live debut of a whole new incarnation of the project in terms of band members. This lineup consisted of drums, bass and keyboard, with very occasional electric guitar, a far cry from the acoustic folk of three years ago.

Kozelek’s first words of the night were a straight-faced tongue-in-cheek announcement that “it’s nice to be back in Australia, I’m having a great time.” It was the start of one of several recurring jokes that surfaced between each lengthy passage of musical existential dread. Indeed, I was surprised by his prevalent sense of humour. The songs really don’t sound like any other artist, the three other musicians holding down solid grooves over which the frontman delivered his diary-like sung-spoken musings in his distinctive moody voice.

It’s hard to imagine many vocalists being able to pull off an entire gig reading pages of lyrics off a music stand, but his commanding presence on stage allowed for this, imparting his presence strongly on every word. This stand acted almost like a lectern for his preacher-like deliveries that touched on many recent issues, from countless shootings to the US election to the deaths of celebrities. His observations and critiques on these often drew cheers of agreement from the audience who filled the Tuning Fork to capacity. They also played a cover of The Allman Brothers’ Sweet Melissa as a tribute to Greg Allman who passed away the day before.   

It’s not surprising so many recent events were featured lyrically, as 10 out of the 14 songs played were released within the last year, many in the last few months. It was a treat to hear the new arrangements being worked out live for the first time, lengthy fluid tracks in which Kozelek’s hand signals freely controlled the band’s dynamics. He repeatedly joked that this was their warm-up gig for Australia, and while it did seem at times that the band were still trying to find their way around certain songs, with a few confused starts, it was greeted with humour and had little negative impact. Older fans may have been disappointed by the lack of old material (the oldest tracks played were two from 2014’s Benji), but each new piece was received warmly, the live debut of Chilli Lemon Peanuts particularly standing out. “Do I look like the kind of guy who takes requests to you?” he quipped in response to some vocal audience members.

We were treated to a surprise halfway through the two-hour-plus set when Neil Finn, of Crowded House fame, joined the group for two tracks. His atmospheric guitar work in combination with Kozelek’s stunning narrative made Beautiful You a highlight of the night, while the older track I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love was sung as a duet between the two vocalists.

Another surprise was a new never-before-heard track that closed out the main set, a charming piece observing the Trump age from the perspective of a house cat that proved Sun Kil Moon’s incredible streak of productivity isn’t showing any sign of stopping. Nor is the brilliance of their live show. See them when you can.

 

 

Set list:

Bombs (retitled David Tua Plays The Ukulele)

Sweet Melissa (The Allman Brothers cover)

Chili Lemon Peanuts

Early June Blues

I Love You Forever And Beyond Eternity

Astronomy

Bergen To Trondheim

Beautiful You (with Neil Finn)

I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love (with Neil Finn)

Window Sash Weights

The Possum

Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes

New Song (Untitled)

 

Encore:

Hello Chicago

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