Sun Kil Moon in The National Concert Hall, Dublin, on August 6th 2015
Tonight is surely the first time over its illustrious tenure that a performer has equated the National Concert Hall with something akin to House of 1000 Corpses (“nobody talks, nobody responds”). Mark Kozelek isn’t one to kow-tow to sacred cows, nor is he one to shy away from speaking what’s on his mind. Aside from releasing one of 2014’s most astonishing albums in ‘Benji’, his path has been fraught with controversy – an enduring, comical and highly publicised feud with Philly rockers The War On Drugs; Pitchfork-baiting; calling a female journalist a bitch onstage; telling an audience of “fuckin’ hillbillies” in North Carolina to “shut the fuck up”. In a Sun Kil Moon crowd you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s why Kozelek’s gigs are so much fun.
Red and green amplifier power lights float in the foreground of the stage décor’s starlight effect, a serendipitous focusing of attention on the shadow players onstage; an untethered Kozelek, and his three solid compadres filling the void. Darkness persists as the musicians begin Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here, with Kozelek sitting on high at the balcony organ with his back to the band and crowd for much of the set’s first two numbers. It’s as if that’s the way he’s going to stay for the duration, and it would likely surprise none if this had transpired given the prickliness of the man. Kozelek is too much of a gregarious host for that though.
“You sound so fucking bored” he chastises the crowd after an invitation to echo his vocal on Carissa, but next time around they get it, invoking Steve Collins and Shaun MacGowan – “or whatever that weird looking fucker’s called” – in their delivery. Carissa’s lyrics are ad-libbed to address an incessant Sun Kil Moon gig conundrum – the ratio of guys to girls in the audience (“Holy shit, twenty fucking dudes in a row!”) Some nearby empty seats in the room hurt his feelings, he says, and four lads take up Kozelek’s invitation to fill them to a rebuke of “Get some fucking girlfriends.” His sardonic “God, I’m gonna fucking kill myself” to the testosterone fest precedes He Always Felt Like Dancing, a reminder that Kozelek’s onstage manner often masks some deeply affecting themes.
Songs from his latest, ‘Universal Themes’, take a harder edge than the older tracks, with Kozelek donning electric guitar for The Possum, and the band on this occasion seem a much tighter unit than the last Dublin visit. There couldn’t have been a sounder reference to that previous outing – The Button Factory in December of 2014 – than to bring that night’s unsung hero back onstage for a reunion. Jake the Drummer, plucked from the audience to accompany the band during that wintry selection, is greeted like an old buddy. When his benefactor enquires about his favourite band, the reply leads to Kozelek coaching the players in Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, one of the songs from an album’s worth of Modest Mouse covers he released in 2005. Even the surly one has to acknowledge the Three Blind Mice joke his guitarist chides him with as he figures out the three note motif on the keyboard for them to follow.
With all Kozelek’s joking onstage, and human traffic on the piss/pint trajectory that busies the aisles during the set, it is the more settled encore that seems the most cohesive part of the show. “Go on, ya good thing!” a female voice calls to a confused Kozelek, until the phrase is broken down to its basic definition: “You’re great, like”. Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak then is rowdy; Carry Me Ohio is apparently under-practised but not noticeably so, and a final UK Blues is a just a joy. Tonight’s House of 1000 Dudes no doubt held a general consensus: it was great, like.