Union Chapel, London
29th July, 2010
“Give me a minute and I’ll blow your minds“. The crowd laughs, so does the man who just uttered those words. The mood, somewhat quiet, respectful, shiftless, is lightened, and he begins another master-class in tinkling the nylon strings of his Spanish guitar like Liberace would the piano. “I’m old” he breaks the silence again, “I’m fat, I need water, I need lyrics to my songs”. From my pew to the right side of the stage I have to squint to see if it’s not Neil Young sitting there complaining about his arthritis. To Mark Kozelek’s credit, he’s still as ageless as ever, and that gut you were grabbing at? I’m pretty sure you’ve been carrying that for a while now.
Kozelek’s playing style has morphed from a simple six steel string strum to a more delicate, finger-picked style played on a nylon-stringed Spanish guitar in which his latest album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker Admiral Fell Promises is given over entirely to and for the entire set doesn’t leave his grip. Old Red House Painter tunes like the breath-taking “Katy Song” and “Void” have be remodeled to fit this new style, now intensely, carefully, with sudden dalliances up and down the fretboard, revealing a new side to Kozelek, one that is almost focused solely on the guitar. Long passages of songs begin in that string rumbling style, skipping along, repeating phrases of notes, building momentum.
Those unfamiliar with Admiral Fell Promises would’ve been found wanting with Kozelek’s predilection for new material, playing seven out of the ten songs in the course of the night, only briefly wandering off-course to treat us with Ghost of The Highway fave “Carry Me Ohio” and “Duk Koo Kim”. His attempt at banter often fell flat — berating someone in the crowd who asked (I believe) about guitar tabs, telling the assembled to do away with their Facebook pages and websites and to essentially get a life. But that’s Mark Kozelek and you have to sympathise to a degree how to manage the awkward silences between having to change guitar tunings with every song. It sounds like he came with his patter prepared, almost in the way he flubs his own lines.
The new songs, much like Kozelek’s previous album April, belay a certain sense of ‘memorable-ness’, of a chorus or something within the song that the listener can grip on tightly to and anticipate its return. There’s little deviation in style and Kozelek has almost become as predictable as a songwriter as he is with his stage banter. His performance at the Union Chapel was near flawless which perhaps was the main problem — Kozelek is just too good at what he does. But for the last song of the night, an untested attempt at Admiral Fell Promises “Bay of Skulls”, showed he was human after all, becoming so entranced with getting a section of the song perfect that after three attempts, his amusement growing with each failure, he put down his guitar and acceded defeat to a round of applause.