Deep, Throated Passion

Deep, Throated Passion

Taking all of Sun Kil Moon at Fríkirkjan

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Published December 15, 2014

The arsenic content of an apple could be something like .000000023 ppb*, I figured, observing the seeds I spat out of a particularly rancid Granny Smith I ate alongside Fríkirkjvegur.

At first, last night offered up to the city a pepper shake, maybe even a… lightly assaultive graze… of precipitation, and that drear imbued Fríkirkjan for Sun Kil Moon’s performance with a certain feeling of sanctuary, a feeling that repurposed it for usefulness yet again, sparing it from further dust gathering as an anachronism of Nordic religiosity. I would much rather prefer this kind of religious spectacle in such a setting, anyway. That aside, lets continue with this… hagiography of this beautiful, beautiful band.

Entering Fríkirkjan, I walked in to see a man standing in the centre of the nave, sermoning the crowd with melody. He stood in front of a painting of the Jesus dude, who himself was draped in a lighting scheme harking back to the heyday of these esteemed high cultural movements as a sort of Disco-Glam Saviour of Man. Later, after the lighting issue was addressed, he was then draped in a flicker of candlelight, which greatly aided in developing the elegy and séance of wistful recollections.

As he sang, I thought wildly. For starters, a very healthy turnout for the show. Then, that Mark is careful to let notes ring out until inaudibility. Next, that he’s come a long way over the years. Onward, that the natural reverb produced in the church aided his voice to the nth degree. I was also happy to see that some of the original frescoes remained on the ceiling, however cracked and chipped. Overall, the church’s narrow, unassuming architecture fit the message and sound of Sun Kil Moon perfectly. I also noticed the lack of frills in the performance, which simply laid talent bare, letting masterful songwriting, a gorgeous voice and some flawless playing do the talking.

By Western compositional standards, Mark Kozelek has squared away each point of the performance. With the mood of the performance space established with the quick resolution of problems, the appearance of the band unassuming, the songs well rehearsed and his live act participatory but not pandering, this band and the promoters could tick every box for success. It also helped that Mark was very funny.

One could love the little things, as well. The tuning between songs (how often do you hear that anymore?) the stories the band could conjure up, the images one could upon closing one’s eyes and just listening, the apparitions evoked by the harmonies, and the restraint of the audience truly made this an event. Even when playing work from their latest LP, ‘Benji’, with it’s momentary spoken word vocal stylings, the audience was receptive. It’s nice to know that audience won’t always take a reactionary stance when the tried and tested model that establishes a band is temporarily challenged.

In addition, no element of the band overwhelmed another. In terms of audience participation, the impromptu act of goading an audience member, a girl called Íris, into joining Mark for a rendition Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” was a very touching moment, and she gave a truly stellar performance in a situation that could have resulted in calamity.

Whilst singing, certain lyrics Mark sung struck chords with me. For example the lyrics to “Ceiling Gazing” and “Caroline” I found particularly arresting. Have a listen.

Mark is a true heartland American, and his accent makes that possible. I bet most Americans can’t howl Americana the way he does. Maybe The Boss can… but I don’t think anyone else from the Garden State could do it as easily. Especially if engaged in something as daring as playing Christmas songs…

He happily offered up to us an number of Xmas standards, which seemed very fitting for the occasion. Honestly, you can put this man’s voice on top of nearly any tune and it would fit. He mentioned wanting to do a Christmas album since at least 1995. Hard to believe the man has been working at his craft for that long. This should instil hope and confidence for your own prospects, if ever in doubt about your faculties.

I have to admit that Mark did seem a bit brash at times, making me feel at times that all the criticisms aimed at the man through the years could be at least be partially accurate—but as he displays such humour in speaking and an excellent songwriting ability, it’s easy to brush that brashness aside. For example, unbeknownst to me Mark had a sort of no photography policy, and he singled me out in the audience about it, but did so in a way which wasn’t mean spirited. Perhaps all of his critics don’t know him well enough and should, quite rightly, shut the fuck up.

As it all ended, I was confident in that I had spent my precious free time wisely. Mark and band made this a special occasion, and it’s a good thing. I think we can safely say that their visitation was well received. Congrats guys.

*In the raging debate over the level of arsenic the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should allow in the U.S. apple juice supply, the amount discovered has been reported to be as high as over twenty-three parts per billion in some samples, or so I read this morning.

…Are you still reading? Good, here is your money shot. The title of this article is a reference to this recent romp:

I thought it was funny. Long live Sun Kil Moon and Mark Kozelek.


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