Monday, March 19, 2012
By necessity, longtime followers of Mark Kozelek have become a patient people. The wait for 2001's last-ever Red House Painters LP was five slow-going years. And after the debut full-length from his follow-up project, Sun Kil Moon, we waited another half-decade for their 2nd album in 2008 (no, I won't count Mark's 2005 time-killing collection of Modest Mouse covers). Sure, there are the relatively frequent live releases and compilations to ease some withdrawal symptoms, but proper LPs and tour dates were hard to come by for good while there.
Which makes the recent past so surprising, and so very welcome - especially for us devotees in the Boston area. Check this: In the past year-or-so alone we've had not just one, but two Koz live performances here, along with the release of his first-ever DVD ("Mark Kozelek - On Tour"), and last month's announcement of his next full-length under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, "Among The Leaves", arriving in late May on his own Caldo Verde label. Throw in last year's live collection ("Live at Union Chapel & Sodra Teatern") and another one on deck ("Live At Lincoln Hall", out May 1st), and we're in the midst of a bonafide bonanza. In short: It's a very, very good time to be a Mark Kozelek fan.
Consider this post an informational catch-all, of not just what's ahead for "crazy Koz" (hey, Mojave 3 said it, not me), but of his past couple visits to a particular Cambridge, Massachusetts church...
First the important stuff: A brand new album of original Kozelek-compositions, out on May 29th, and available for pre-order here. He's been playing many of the songs from "Among The Leaves" at shows over the past 6 months, though you'd be hard-pressed to find those performances online - he's notoriously strict about live recording. A rare exception: Video of a new one performed on February 4th at the Wilmot Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick during the Shivering Songs Festival. Here's Mark doing "Sunshine In Chicago", after a performance of "Heron Blue"...
We've also been privy to previews of the new record in the form of officially-approved MP3s from a couple different music blogs, including Stereogum (the LP version of "Sunshine In Chicago") and Paste Magazine (a stream of "Track Number 8").
While Mark's songs have traditionally been known for being on the sad side (yeah, ok, understatement), the tracks on the new LP promise to be among his most amusing yet. Well, maybe amusing is the wrong word. Wry? Sarcastic? Biting? Somewhere in there. All you have to do is look at the "Among The Leaves" track list to know he's letting loose a little bit...
Sun Kil MoonOk, so maybe there are only 3 or 4 songs titles that hint at Morrissey-style humor, but hey, it's more than he's given us in the past. I will say that the last time I saw him, just two months ago at the First Church in Cambridge Congregation, I've never laughed so much at one of his shows. Relatively speaking, it was the "Koz Comedy Hour". And it wasn't just new stuff that did it, but his between-song banter. Here's what he played, with asterisks on the new ones...
Mark Kozelek liveYeah, so many new ones, and I relished them all. If the new material suggests an overall theme, it's of his life on the road as an aging songwriter, of the struggle with making and performing music after two decades in the "biz". He's writing what he knows, and what he knows is wrestling with his muse.
Highlights included the laugh-out-loud main-set-closer "UK Blues", with echoes of Monty Python of all things ("Finland, Finland...") while taking shots at various tour stops ("London, London... it's all the rage, if your favorite color's beige"), "Sunshine In Chicago" ("My band played here a lot in the 90s when we had / Lots of female fans, and fuck, they all were cute / Now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes."), and "Track Number 8" ("Well I wrote this one and I know it ain't great, will probably sequence at track number eight"), which is, of course, sequenced at track number 11.
That song also brought what was, for me, the saddest moment of his set, with Mark acknowledging the loss of some songwriting peers...
"Songwriting costs, it doesn't come freeThat was a rough one to hear for the first time in a crowd.
His live performance of "Sunshine In Chicago" namechecked another songwriter, Jolie Holland, though not in a reverential way - she was apparently booked to play Lincoln Hall a few days after his own July 2010 appearance, and her name on the marquee prompted Mark to sing...
"and I looked up at the marquee, and hey, it was my nameHe says the same in the live video above, though he softens up the slight on the studio version ("... next to Julie Holland, think that was her name".) Gotta wonder if Mark decided to change the line after he recorded it, or if he just didn't want the dig to be loose in the world? Either way, the Southern Souls video above lets it out there, so cue the inevitable comment-section war between Koz and Jolie fans. Ok, maybe not.
The number of new songs in that set stands in contrast to his performance in the same church just 11 months earlier. In place of new ones, we were treated to a few more choice covers...
Mark Kozelek liveLike the most recent Cambridge show, that one was dark. And I'm not talkin' lyrically (though, of course, it was at times), but instead literally - the lights were brought down so low that Mark could barely be seen. In fact, when asked if I'd seen him play, I could only say that, well, I'd heard him play. I'm guessing it's as much a mood thing as an image thing - he's as protective of captured photos as he is of recorded audio. Recent live shots, like YouTube footage, are relatively rare. The January show was a bit better, thanks to a candle set on stage, though even Mark said that while he'd forgot some lyric sheets, he probably wouldn't be able to read them even if he'd remembered.
Late last summer, about halfway between his two area appearances, Kozelek released his "On Tour" DVD. And like the latest show, it allows his lighter side shine through a lot more. As the title suggests, it documents Mark's life on the road, not just through live performances (of which there are plenty), but with a fair amount of solitary travel footage.
It begins near his home, as he waits for a cab in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood, and ends months later with a homeward-bound flight from gray Toronto back to sunny SF. In between are a multitude of planes, trains and automobiles that connect solo stops in Sweden, Norway, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, Denmark, and the States. In fact, after arriving in Boston by train, there's a bit of soundcheck from that 2010 First Unitarian Church of Cambridge show, after which he plays the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. And as a nod to both, you'll hear a new instrumental called "First Unitarian Piece".
Along with the travelogue, there are interviews throughout, with Mark reflecting on his 20-year touring history, which started with the Red House Painters opening for 4AD labelmates the Pale Saints in 1992. He talks about how invigorating it was to switch from playing steel guitar strings to nylon ("It's almost like playing a brand new instrument"). In a particularly touching moment, he laments being away from home so often, and of not making it back in time to say goodbye to the cat he had for 16 years.
The lightness comes in a few forms, through his interaction with autograph-and-photo-seeking fans (some not wearing tennis shoes), a little puppy-petting (see, it's not just cats he loves), but especially from a particularly infectious hotel-room giggle fit. Blame exhaustion, blame jetlag, but it's cool to see.
If you've read this far, either you're a real Koz fan, or you're ready to become one, so it's time I gavee you a shot at a gift...
One of the true highlights of Mark's January 2011 Cambridge show was a cover of the song "Natural Light", written by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's Owen Ashworth. It really struck me that night, and I was glad to find a recorded version on his 4-song "I'll Be There" EP. In addition to that cover, the disc includes an alternate version of "Third and Seneca", along with a Stereolab cover ("Tomorrow Is Already Here") and, of course, his take on the Jackson 5/Berry Gordy classic "I'll be There".
Thanks to its inclusion as a freebie when buying one of Mark's other releases, I've got an extra copy of the EP, so it's up for grabs. If you live in the US or Canada, fire off an email to giveaways [at] bradleysalmanac [dot] com with your shipping address (don't worry, won't share it) and a subject line of "Koz EP". Do it before Noon on Monday, March 25th, when I'll pick a random winner, let them know, and send it on its way.
Pre-order Sun Kil Moon's "Among The Leaves" (out May 29th) over at Caldo Verde, where you can also stream "Sunshine In Chicago" and "Track Number 8". The CD release of the album comes with a 5-track bonus disc of live songs and a couple alternate tracks.
All pre-orders of "Among The Leaves" (as well as any other orders placed at Caldo Verde after May 1st) will also come with a free copy of the new "Live At Lincoln Hall" CD, recorded last July in Chicago. It addition to live versions of new songs "Young Love" and "Sunshine In Chicago", the set includes his Danzig, Bonnie Prince Billy, and Cars covers.
That live collection replaces last year's "Live at Union Chapel & Sodra Teatern", which will be officially out-of-print at the end of April, so if you're looking for that one, place an order at Caldo Verde soon and hopefully they'll throw one of those in with your shipment. Drop a note to make sure, though. There's also a 2-CD live companion soundtrack to the "On Tour" DVD on the way, which arrives in late August.
Mark's admiration for Owen Ashworth of (the now retired) doesn't end with just one cover version: He'll be putting out the debut album from Ashworth's new project, Advance Base. Titled "A Shut-In's Prayer", the full-length arrives May 1st from Caldo Verde, and can be pre-ordered right here.
That two-decades-old photo of Mark above comes from the 4AD Records "13 Year Itch" anniversary celebration, which took place at ICA London in July 1993. I took some time last week to scan in and share my shots from that life-altering experience, and you can see the whole set right here. Includes photos of Kristin Hersh, Pale Saints, Unrest, Breeders, His Name Is Alive, Wolfgang Press, and more.
And lastly, any self-respecting Koz follower should keep an eye on the oft-updated Sad Reminders fansite. Just sayin'.
Alright, get those giveaway entries on their way...
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011
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