Firstly, this will no doubtedly be a very biased review. Even without the events that would unfurl on this fateful night though for my partner, and myself I can safely say that this concert from a purely unobjective view was absolutely spellbindingly beautiful, and positively worth the highest rating that our publication can offer.
Due either to my good fortune, or the venues quick decision to remove tables and chairs up front to allow more space for ticket-holders, we ended up right at centre stage at the absolute front. We bashfully had sat on the hard concrete floor in front of a row of tables after arriving about 10 minutes before the proposed show time, but the security came out and kindly asked for everyone to remove the furniture and either stand or sit on the floor, the place was getting packed, the stage was set, we politely inched up close enough to set our glasses of wine on stage – something as a performer myself and ‘etiquette police’ would normally avoid doing, however this was turning out to be a special night where a lot of inhibitions were pushed away.
I was surprised to see an electric guitar and full drum kit (in addition to a keyboard and Kozelek’s Spanish guitar) for as far as I can tell; Sun Kil Moon has yet to ever perform as a full band, at least in Europe and in this constellation. Before I had time to think, the players emerged from the wings our stage, and I noted that the band was comprised of most of the former Red House Painters and current Desert Shore line-up. It wasn’t just a normal Kozelek gig, the band was back together.
There were no set lists, just Kozelek quietly calling out each piece to the drummer, then the info being relayed down the grapevine to each member. From the starting line, the arrangements of newer Sun Kil Moon tracks and Desertshore numbers were just as beautiful and poignant as any die-hard fan could imagine. A lot of tracks originally recorded as solo pieces with only Mark Kozelek on his beloved classical guitar were given the all out Red House Painters treatment. Beside myself, barely keeping it together, I noticed the boys next me and a girl behind me openly weeping. The show had an early highlight with Benji track – “Michelene”. Kozelek surprised everyone by ditching his guitar and arising from his seat to take the mic and sing unadorned at center stage. An audience – the once seemingly reluctant songwriter, now blossoming in front of us as a full-fledged front man, has never felt his presence I don’t believe like this. “Micheline”’s autobiographical lyrics came alive with the bands soaring arrangement. Kozelek parked himself within such a close distance to us that I could actually smell his shirt. His eyes mostly closed, he weaved a tale of his sepia-tinted past while we gazed enraptured at the performance. If you know your RHP/SKM, you know that it’s not out of character for a song to run well into the 10 minute mark, and they just kept going, unrelenting, bringing the point home: there is nothing like a beautiful song to bring me to my knees.
Light banter with the crowd is another notoriously interesting matter with Mark Kozelek. True to form, he couldn’t help but notice a guy’s neon glowing cross trainers right in front of him. Other points of interest were the usual remark’s on how much he enjoys walking around Aarhus, and enlightened us to the fact that he would rather remain in bed than go see the rainbow kaleidoscope on top of the Aros museum: “Baby, I’m 45 years old, I’m gonna stay in bed”. More beauty ensued with a handful of tunes from Benji and recent Desertshore album, Drawing of threes. The band’s arrangements were absolutely stunning. Sometimes reaching into heavier sections ala Black Sabbath, sometimes Phil Carney doubling Kozelek’s flamenco tinged acrobatics on his electric; sometimes the band backing off to bring out Kozelek’s newly minted verses on older tracks (Elaine).
Being up front though for us put us at a distinct advantage though. Kozelek’s off mic comments and banter is only focused at times on the front row of people. Being a singer that performs so far away from the mic, and with many wet effects on his vocals, you almost have to lip read to get what he’s up to, unless he’s directly in front of you. We got that treatment. The audience though that I could sense around me though were absolutely silent however, so much that you could hear some people happily sobbing a little in the pregnant pauses between phrases. It was like seeing a symphony – a symphony of melancholy joy though.
Kozelek got up for their last few numbers; I believe a track from the Perils From the Sea collaboration, “I can’t live without my mother’s love” from Benji and the final track, something completely unheard. It weaved and shimmered like a classic Red House Painters song, contained very detailed lyrics from different points in his life, and a chorus along the lines of “staring at the ceiling fan…” that was so catchy that several people began quietly singing along to it. We of course we among them. The song concluded with Kozelek directly in front of us with his head in our faces, the song ended, but Mark directed the band to run through the chorus again, and handed the microphone to Mikaeline and I. hearing mine and her voices softly over the house speakers with all of the band playing along and Koz singing with us absolutely was a stunning moment for me. Koz touched our arms, smiled and the band left the stage.
Before the encore there was a little more banter with the audience, Koz was made aware of the fact that Mikaeline nearly shares her name with one of his greatest recent songs, and the band seemed elated to connect with such a fine audience. We were still buzzing from gently being nudged into singing, the audience was absolutely enraptured, and the band gave their signature to “Dogs”, another highlight from Benji. Then…the show ended.
After the curtain closed, the chap next to us came over and asked – “how was that for you? Wow…” and ‘bigmouth McBride’ could for the fist time only just smile and say, “that was heavy”. I almost felt ashamed that the last bit of the show was focused on us, and that everyone couldn’t feel the energy of having such a personal encounter with one of his or her heroes. We dragged our vibrating bodies outside for a smoke. A palm thrust into mine – Vasco Espinheira (guitar) was introducing himself. Again – I was almost spellbound. We chit chatted a little about where we were from, and discovered that the band had actually been camped out in Aarhus all week, due to ATP festival being cancelled in London. Funny to think that those guys were among us all week anyway…killing time in Aarhus. My heroes.
I can’t relate the feelings that came over me after my Sun Kil Moon experience. I was wobbly, like a boxer ready to topple over from a haymaker punch. In my late teens and early twenties, I spent literally hours listening to the Red House Painters albums, Mark’s unmistakable voice, Carney’s absolutely gobsmackingly beautiful guitar playing. They were kinda my Smiths throughout a strange and essential era of my life here on earth. Here I was having had the most satisfying interaction with them one could hope for, and a monumental concert from them to boot. I’ve been waiting decades to see this unfold, and it was now finally realized and over. Time for le petit mort.
Because phones and cameras were specifically asked to be turned off or left at home for this show, there are no photos I can share with you, only the memories written down. If you were there, it was such a pleasure to share this experience with you. Let’s hope this incarnation of the mighty Sun Kil Moon head back to us soon. I think they will, I can feel it.