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Live Review: Sun Kil Moon

26 March 2015 | 10:01 am | Nicholas Atkins

"Kozelek’s unapologetically candid lyrics flow forth in a journal entry-style stream of consciousness."

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A good artist plays from the heart, but on stage, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon busts open his ribcage, tears his heart out and distributes a slice of it to every awestruck audience member to hold on to forever.

The 48-year-old Ohian steps onto the stage of The Hi-Fi with his drummer and keyboard player. He wears a casual jacket and jeans (he later apologises for being slightly overweight in a self-deprecating and hugely endearing way). There’s no affectation, no pose. Kozelek opens with Judy Collins’ version of Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns, and taps along on a cymbal and floor tom he’s placed centre stage. He’s a captivating performer, swaying slightly, eyes closed, his deep drawl dancing expertly across the delicate arrangements.

Without warning he will break into a yell and deliver a line with the full force of his voice, catching the listener off guard and ensuring that if attention has drifted it immediately returns front and centre. It’s a hugely powerful technique.

Kozelek has an engaging, warm magnetism and between songs he has the crowd in stitches with his off-beat chat, engaging with members of the front row, asking them if they have girlfriends and how they discovered his music. He’s in no hurry to get the show finished and get home – it has to feel right and everyone has to be having a good time. He says, “It’s like when you’re fucking. You have to tell me if it’s a good fuck or a bad fuck; should we keep fucking or should we stop?”

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The devastating and beautiful I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love is an unflinching tribute to his ageing mother and expresses his abject fear of how he will possibly cope when she’s gone. Truck Driver and Carissa, from his 2014 album, Benji, recount past family tragedies. Somehow the overall effect is uplifting, and the power of his songs and his disarming humour leave the audience empowered, not depressed.

Kozelek’s unapologetically candid lyrics flow forth in a journal entry-style stream of consciousness. He exorcises personal demons, begs forgiveness for past transgressions and confesses unhealthily and shameful feelings that most people would be afraid to share.

After a nearly three-hour set Kozelek finishes with the gorgeous Micheline and disappears into the rainy night, for now absolved of all sins.