Review: Sun Kil Moon at The Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, May 20th, 2019

The last time Mark Kozelek was in Australia was in 2017, when he was touring his then-recently released album, 30 Seconds To The Decline Of Planet Earth, a collaborative record with Jesu.

Since that trip, Kozelek has released a lot of material, including a solo, self-titled album, collaborative albums with Sean Yeaton, Ben Boye and Jim White, and two albums under his Sun Kil Moon moniker (with another on the way).

Needless to say, fans had been expecting another long-overdue trip to Australia in order for Kozelek to strut his stuff, show off his new tunes, and enchant us once again with his music.

So when the sometimes-divisive music icon announced an Aussie tour recently, you can be sure that his eager fanbase would be hitting up his shows to catch these new tunes. So on Sunday night, fans made their way into Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre to catch the final show of the Victorian leg of Sun Kil Moon’s current Australian tour.

Check out Sun Kil Moon’s ‘I’m Not Laughing At You’:

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As fans made their way upstairs in the Thornbury Theatre, they were met with a rather simple sight. Located at the front of the cosy, intimate venue was a plain setup of a drumkit, a keyboard, a guitar, and an amplifier, indicating this was not set to be an evening of major experimentation.

As lights twinkled upon the black backdrop, some fans could be heard sharing stories about the last time Sun Kil Moon played in Melbourne, and just what songs might be on display tonight.

Of course, for these fans of Mark Kozelek, it would become evident that this evening was not one that would play into their expectations.

In fact, of the ten original songs that Sun Kil Moon would perform this evening, only two of them had been released prior to Kozelek’s last visit to Australia, meaning that for many, this would prove to be an all new experience.

As 8pm came and went, the venue lights soon shifted to a moody red haze, before an MC came out to alert us that no phones or recording devices would be allowed for the performance. As the audience prepared themselves for what may come, a trio of musicians soon took to the stage.

Featuring Melbourne native Jim White (Dirty Three, Xylouris White) on drums, Ben Boye on keys, and Mark Kozelek up the front, Sun Kil Moon had arrived to deliver a night of music we would not soon forget.

Check out Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavelle’s ‘Ceiling Gazing’:

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Kicking things off with 2013’s ‘Ceiling Gazing’, a soft drumbeat and sparse piano notes soon welcomed Mark Kozelek’s iconic voice into the mix. Dressed in a black three-piece suit, Kozelek crooned the nostalgic lyrics with his weary voice, dripping emotion into each and every available opening.

An imposing figure on stage, Kozelek’s soft, gentle movements seemed in contrast with his outward demeanour, only to draw us all in before stunning us with his exceptionally powerful voice, making time almost stand still as his lyrics flowed out into the crowd.

While the song’s sobering subject matter might not have felt uplifting enough to open a show with, the man of the hour soon began joking with the audience, commiserating with voters following the federal election having taken place the night before.

“Scott Morrison?” he asked, “What kind of politician’s name is Scott? Every guy that I fucking hated, that picked on me, that I wanted to kill, was named Scott,” he added, making references to The Doors’ Jim Morrison and late boxer Tommy Morrison.

Jumping into a performance of ‘Daffodils’, the audience soon got a taste of the wordier musician that fans are used to these days, as his verbose 2017 collaboration with Sean Yenton showed off piano lines which ranged from jazzy to menacing, eclectic drumbeats, and Kozelek’s lowdown guitar playing.

Slowly rising in intensity, the track soon reached its peak with Kozelek’s powerful vocals furiously delivering some of the lyrics in a mesmerising staccato.

Check out Mark Kozelek & Sean Yenton’s ‘Daffodils’:

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While casual Sun Kil Moon fans may have been somewhat taken aback by the performance so far, perhaps expecting something akin to 2014’s Benji, or 2005’s Modest Mouse covers album, Tiny Cities, the evening was about to take a drastic turn, with Mark Kozelek soon sending us into the opening notes of ‘Bay Of Kotor’.

The closing track of March’s I Also Want To Die In New Orleans, ‘Bay Of Kotor’ is undoubtedly an ambitious track, clocking in at over 23 minutes, featuring 46 verses, and describes a trip to Montenegro in which Mark interacted with locals and numerous stray animals.

Reading from lyrics on a music stand, Jim White and Ben Boye’s backing instrumentation soon came together in a dangerous cacophony as Kozelek imitated the sound of a starving kitten, turning the mood from an intriguing recital of music into an intoxicating, otherworldly experience of furious intensity, the likes of which caught everyone off guard.

Eschewing his serious tone, Kozelek even drew some laughter from the crowd as recited the spelling of some Serbian words, and lyrics that reminisced on him being reminded of John Malkovich.

However, by the time ‘Bay Of Kotor’ was over, it was clear that some fans had made up their mind, choosing to leave the event, and even causing Mark Kozelek to comment on the situation.

After questioning (and mishearing) a fan on his way to the bathroom, Mark soon found himself confusing Men At Work for A Flock Of Seagulls, and admitting that his all-too brief outburst towards wayward fans was the result of overcompensating for his “false confidence”, which was met with chuckles from both the artist and the crowd.

Of course, tracks like ‘Bay Of Kotor’ and its response is a true testament to Kozelek’s artistry and reception these days, undoubtedly showing that those who found the material a little bit confronting have not spent too much time with his recent discography.

Check out ‘Bay Of Kotor’:

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As the evening continued, Sun Kil Moon delivered a number of exceptionally-immersive numbers, including the mesmerising ‘666 Post’, the crowd favourite ‘Truck Driver’, and the impressive ‘Blood Test’, which feels as though it started life as something of a pure lyrical test, and turned into a stunning track of unification, bolstered by the message of “fuck hate culture, let’s rise above.”

Taking things down a notch though, Mark Kozelek treated fans to a new song, performing ‘Spanish Hotels Are So Echoey’, off of his upcoming collaborative record with Petra Haden.

Another lengthy track, the new cut felt similar to the material heard on 2014’s Benji, mixing in references to depression, travel, love, acquaintances (including a mention of Kurt Vile and his former band), and some trademark punchlines throughout.

Undoubtedly one of the most memorable tracks of the evening, ‘Spanish Hotels Are So Echoey’ looks set to be a future staple of Sun Kil Moon’s setlists thanks to its pure sound and brilliant delivery.

Check out ‘Truck Driver’:

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Deciding to drop in a cover, Mark Kozelek made an appeal for a fan to come onstage and help sing a rendition of Sonny & Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’. Unbeknownst to the audience, we were in good company, with Jono Colliver of Dr. Colossus coming from out of the crowd to shock fans with his stunning voice.

Despite Kozelek’s assertion that he reminded him of Bob Seger, Colliver clearly surprised everyone, with his performance on the cover getting close to outshining the man that fans had come to see.

Getting back into the action, the evening was rounded out by a lengthy trio of songs, including new track ‘I’m Not Laughing At You’, the sweet-yet-rambling ‘My Love For You Is Undying’ (featuring local references to Brumby’s Bakery), and the sincere ode to Norway, ‘This Is My Dinner’.

While Mark Kozelek managed to repurpose lyrics of the latter to be more fitting to his Australian crowd (including another reference to Scott Morrison), it was clear that a relative ignorance to Norway left some fans treating this closing song as more of a musical travelogue than a resounding set-finisher.

Check out ‘My Love For You Is Undying’:

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As fans filed out of the Thornbury Theatre, it was rather obvious that audience reactions were mixed. While many had gone in expecting more ‘straightforward’ songs, others were highly impressed by Mark Kozelek’s poetic nature, his vocal delivery, and affable-yet-serious stage presence.

Although it is clear that there has been a definite stylistic shift in the works of Sun Kil Moon and Kozelek over the last few years, the quality of the live performance has not changed a single bit, providing fans with a unique opportunity to experience the words and music of one of folk music’s most enigmatic figures.

While the music may be more appealing to the hardcore devotees of Sun Kil Moon, the most important thing to keep in mind is to not expect a “concert” in the traditional sense. Rather, you are set to receive a “live performance”, and one that must be felt and experienced in order for it to be appreciated.

A ban on phones and recording devices undoubtedly allows fans to lose themselves in the moment, enjoying the evening’s entertainment, fully appreciating the picture that Mark Kozelek’s words are painting, and feeling the stunning presence of Jim White and Ben Boye’s backing instrumentation.

While Sun Kil Moon and Kozelek’s Melbourne show might sound like something of a divisive experience on paper, it is truly the sort of thing that any lover of music should witness once, for only then can you come close to understanding the majesty and genius of Mark Kozelek.

Sun Kil Moon’s Australian tour is set to continue on Tuesday with a two-night residency at the Lansdowne Hotel in Chippendale, before wrapping up in Brisbane on Thursday.

Check out Sun Kil Moon’s ‘This Is My Dinner’:

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Sun Kil Moon @ Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, Australia 19/5/19 Setlist

‘Ceiling Gazing’
‘Bay Of Kotor’
‘666 Post’
‘Truck Driver’
‘Blood Test’
‘Spanish Hotels Are So Echoey’
‘I Got You Babe’ (Sonny & Cher cover) (With Jono Colliver of Dr. Colossus)
‘I’m Not Laughing At You’
‘My Love For You Is Undying’
‘This Is My Dinner’

Sun Kil Moon Australian Tour 2019

Remaining dates

Tuesday, May 21st
Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale, NSW
Tickets: Lansdowne Hotel

Wednesday, May 22nd (Sold Out)
Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale, NSW

Thursday, May 23rd
Old Museum, Brisbane, QLD
Tickets: Old Museum

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