Mark Kozelek. The Soiled Dove Underground. 01.29.15
Many lessons were learned last time Mark Kozelek came to Denver to perform at the Soiled Dove Underground. Koz doesn’t get laid in Denver. He doesn’t drink or smoke pot. He doesn’t like the outdoors and has nothing in common with the “sporty” couples of Colorado. But the most important lesson was to refrain from eating Buffalo wings while the man is performing. Having learned our lesson, we were spared that particular rant on Thursday night. Instead, the 48 year old singer-songwriter took the stage with stories about Anton LaVey, Steve McQueen and dreams of moving to the West Coast, all while beating a drum with a single stick. Then he told a couple little girls in the audience that their dog was going to die…just like his girlfriend’s dog, his grandmother and his friend Brett.
Things didn’t exactly lighten up when he sat down with his guitar to perform his latest single, “The Possum”. Admitting the single wasn’t much of a success because people didn’t understand it, he proceeded anyway. The nine minute track uses a dying possum and a Godflesh concert at the DNA Lounge as inspiration to live every day to its fullest. Half the track is sung like Justin Broadrick, while other parts are spoken word. I’m not sure Koz realizes that his fanbase overlaps with The War on Drugs more than it does with Godflesh, which might explain the lukewarm response to the single, but it probably wouldn’t matter if he did. Mark Kozelek doesn’t really give a shit what people think. He never has. His attitude is not something new. “It’s not something that started in September.” That being said, following the single with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” was a great move. With everyone on common ground again, we were prepared for the first disaster of the evening.
When his tuner went out, the lighting guy became the target of Koz’s frustration. Was the tuner cursed because it was purchased in Newtown, Connecticut? Could the lighting guy go get him a 9-volt battery? Could the audience stop laughing? Was it his guitar? “This is not funny!” Luckily the situation was remedied in short time and within minutes Koz was further down the road of “making friends” with lighthearted misogyny (if there is such a thing) and Denver bashing. One of the funniest exchanges came at this point in the show. When Koz claimed that he had never once signed a piece of vinyl for a girl in his entire career, a female audience member walked up to the stage with a copy of Benji and asked him to sign it. He accused her of asking for her boyfriend or uncle, told her there was nothing on the album she could relate to, took the album from her, threw the album on the ground behind him, and then offered her $500 cash to name five tracks on the album. She said “330 Area Code” and “My Dead Cousin”, to which he replied “no, those are not names of songs on that album.” She was more successful at naming songs from his older albums, to which he claimed to be aroused. He told her she was cute, gave her the album back and said he would sign it after the show. Then he performed “Dogs”, a song that documents his first sexual encounter and the many uncomfortable and awkward sexual encounters that followed.
Last time the man came to town, I wrote:
You’d be forgiven for thinking Mark Kozelek hates his life. You’d be forgiven for thinking he hates you. Mark Kozelek is 46 years old and he wants to know what the fuck happened to his life. Back in the 90’s, when he toured with Red House Painters, the female fans were more than willing to save him from a suicidal night in a lonely motel room. Now he travels around the world signing posters for guys who eat Buffalo wings. It seems that nothing can make this guy happy. If you don’t know his new material, it depresses him. If you travel hundreds of miles to see him, it depresses him. If you have a dick, it depresses him.
Thursday night presented a different side of Mark Kozelek. Sure, he’s still an angry curmudgeon who took a good chunk of the show to continue his absurd, one-sided attack on The War on Drugs, but there was something lighter about the anger. He wasn’t taking the current stuff so seriously anymore. He joked with the family in the audience, he changed the words to The War on Drugs: Suck My Jock (which is actually a pretty funny song, even though I don’t agree with the context), he quoted Louis C.K in saying that he is getting so old that he would rather sit down by himself than stand up and fuck. He bitched about technology and admitted to have never driven a car, but then he brought out his flip-phone and read humorous texts from his landlord, agent (“how was SLC? Haha. Salt Lake City. How the fuck do you think it was?”) and Chloë Sevigny. He mentioned he wants to write more funny songs when he finishes his next serious album. He sang us the chorus from “Vinyl is a Man’s World” and gave us the title of the half-finished “The Only Affection I Received On Set Was a Mediocre Handjob From an Extra Who Kept Asking Me About Paul Dano”. When my wife told him the title was a bit too long, he reminded her that Jimmy Fallon asked him to play “The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man” on late night television…and he told her in an overly smug tone that had a subtext of “so there!”
There has always been levity in what Mark Kozelek does, but this time things were just a little more lighthearted than they had been at the other shows I had attended. And I have my own guess as to why. Benji. Sun Kil Moon’s latest album is sad and dark and real and heavy in a way that makes every other Mark Kozelek album seem blithe in comparison. When addressing the little girls in the audience, he spoke about what he was doing when he was their age. Lots of drugs. He would sing Christmas carols with his friends and then ask to use the bathroom so they could steal prescription pills. He would smoke marijuana dusted with animal tranquilizers. He went to rehab when he was 14 years old. His lived his VH1 story in reverse. He told the girls to stay clean, to brush their teeth and to go to college. Bringing kids to a Mark Kozelek show is a risky move, and it’s not one I fully understand, but it did bring something out of the man on stage (as well as cause him to suppress some things). We learned more about the kid who became the young man who experienced all those things on Benji. He explained it as a document of “the first sad things…the ones that really stick with you.” They can be big things, like people dying, but they can also be small things, like seeing a movie in the theater, a deep seeded guilt for adolescent actions that only you remember, a neighbor girl’s crush on you, or even the first time you learned that true evil exists in the world via the nightly news. Some of the most important life events don’t seem so important at the time, and they aren’t important to anyone else, but they find a special hiding place in your mind. They influence everything about who you are. Those are the topics Koz explores on Benji. Those are the places he went to find that album. I feel like that material is so heavy, so important to who he is as a person, that it took some of the weight off the trivial obstacles of day-to-day life. After all, the man is successful. He has a girlfriend whom he loves and she loves him back. He has multiple houses. His albums sell. People come to his shows. He seems to have creative freedom. As far as I can tell, life is pretty good for Mark Kozelek at 48 years old, especially considering who Mark Kozelek was at 14 years old. By digging so deep to extract Benji, maybe he realized that for himself. So when he’s not performing those songs, he can allow himself to be just a little more lighthearted. But then again, maybe I’m just a “blogger brat” who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That could also be true.
Sitting close enough to have a dialogue with the man, coupled with the fact that there was a family with two little girls in the audience, and that our new friend, Matt, was able to play drums for almost half the songs on his 47th birthday, made the show a truly unique experience. It was a Mark Kozelek performance in every way, but there was something special about it. It wasn’t my dream setlist, but Matt’s drumming was impeccable and it added a depth to the selections that was missing last time. The serious songs from Benji were augmented with Koz’s signature dark humor in the best way. The stage banter and in-between-songs stories seemed more honest than in the past (“this is the truth, sometimes I bullshit, but this is the truth”). I read an interview where he denied that Benji was his most important album (and even though it was my favorite album of last year, I am not sure it’s my favorite Koz album overall), but I think it is an album that affected him more than he may know. With everything that has gone on in the past year and a half, I was expecting somebody different on Thursday night. To witness him at his most balanced was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. And although he is only neutral about Denver (“kind of like Canada”), he was very thankful and appreciative at the end. He was in such a good mood that he even offered to come out and “meet some couples and sign some vinyl for some couples and hang out with some couples…and some couples and stuff.” Dudes in tennis shoes and sporty couples and a lack of potential sexual encounters aside, I do hope he finds his way back out here again soon. I’m looking forward to hearing his next serious album, as well as “Does Michael Caine Ever Not Talk?”
Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here
He Always Felt Like Dancing
Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes
I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same
Truck Driver *
You Missed My Heart *
War On Drugs: Suck My Jock *
Vinyl is a Man’s World
Ceiling Gazing *
I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love *
* with Matthew Kane from audience on drum