Tag Archives: Sun Kil Moon

On the road? No thanks

I suspect I am not alone in routinely pondering a new lifestyle, a new place to live, a new job; especially so at this maudlin time of year. Even old dogs need a fresh bone from time to time.

Teetotalism and swimming daily would undoubtedly benefit my health, and I’ve long dreamt of living in continental Europe, where the weather and culture are hard to pick fault with. And work? I came to journalism late after bobbing about gladly but aimlessly in the ocean of bar work, playing music and touring with bands. I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.

Pubs have a tough time of it these days so a return to the licensed trade is a no-no, and fumbling with my ever-growing arsenal of guitars is something I do strictly on a not-for-profit basis. Tour management, though, keeps invading the misty glade of my mind, despite its myriad drawbacks.

The situation isn’t helped when associates from that chapter of my life arrive in town to play a show. Last week it was Mark Kozelek, who was playing Glasgow with his group Sun Kil Moon. Though now in his late 40s and settled down, when I shepherded his band Red House Painters through Europe at the turn of the century he had what you might call a roving eye. Women and music were his exclusive foci, which was exasperating and entertaining in equal measure.

Overall, the tour was a blast. I watched a wonderful band from the side of the stage every night as they played to devoted audiences in Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia; the Oresund bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo blew my mind; and a beguiling esprit de corps grew out of spending what felt like weeks of dead time travelling with kind, creative men who were like me – they would be returning to California to deliver pizzas, drive taxis and sell property to pay the rent. This was their annual holiday. Only Mark earned enough money from music to concentrate on it full time.

It was heartening to catch up with him backstage after a marathon set and find him in good form despite the circumstances. The previous evening they’d played a long show in Dublin and got to bed around 2am. Four hours later Mark emailed to say they were leaving for Glasgow. Then a skilled pilot lifted their plane above the pack of thoroughly hacked-off weather wolves circling Hibernia and Dalriada and deposited them in Scotland on arguably the worst day of the year. Talk about exhausting.

Tour management? I think I’ll pass.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Review – Sun Kil Moon, SW3, Glasgow (10/12/14)

At the age of 47, Mark Kozelek is having the year of his life. A “hit” album (Benji), bounteous publicity through his ongoing feud with The War On Drugs and the discovery of an apparently bottomless seam of creativity – transcribing the minutiae of his life into diaristic song – have transformed his fortunes.

Not before time, you might say. A friend of and collaborator with Low, Will Oldham and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley among others, aside from the tenacity with which Sun Kil Moon’s ringmaster has clung to his craft across two decades of musicmaking, on tonight’s evidence a stout disregard for convention is what elevates the San Francisco-based songwriter above his peers.

Exhibit A: a £25 ticket with no support act. Sounds grim, right? But after three hours of sublime music (much of it accompanied by a drummer plucked from the crowd and handed £200 for his efforts) and wise-guy repartee – Jackie Mason meets Joe Pesci – such a price-tag looks like the deal of the century.

Exhibit B: Sun Kil Moon confound expectation. Kozelek frequently plays a floor tom and snare, delegating the reproduction of his signature chordal mastery to pianist Chris Connolly and guitarist Nick Zubeck, who cope equally well with renditions of The Christmas Song, Little Drummer Boy and I Got You Babe, on which a randomly selected female ticketholder takes on Cher’s role.

Much of Benji is fed through a decelerative filter, monged and drawn out for maximum gravitas. And lo and gadzooks, Kozelek has the temerity to light up a cigarette, as punk rock as live acts get these days.

An exceptional show to cap an exceptional year, all told.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

The Kiss by Judee Sill

It was Bernie Taupin who postulated the theory that “when all hope is gone, sad songs say so much” – a hypothesis confirmed when I was choosing the soundtrack for a gathering to commemorate the life of a friend’s wife who died much, much too young.

It quickly became apparent that 90% of the music I treasure most oscillates between sad-eyed and threnodic. The resulting playlist was assembled from the remaining 10% and sidestepped anything I judged to be inappropriate.

But there are sad songs, and then there are songs which make you wish your heart were broken so you could savour every last morsel of melancholy within them. One of my current favourites among the former is I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same by Sun Kil Moon, in which singer Mark Kozelek unfurls a blazon of regret, death, childhood memory and fumbled friendship over a cyclical acoustic guitar figure. The effect is profoundly poignant. Compared to The Kiss by Judee Sill, though, the song is a nursery rhyme.

Judee Sill’s is a story of squandered talent on a par with, if not greater than, that of her contemporaries Sandy Denny and Janis Joplin. The fuse for her troubles was lit as a child when her mother remarried, and before her teenage years were over she had committed armed robberies, embraced LSD and served time in reform school. In her early 20s she became addicted to heroin, a habit she funded through prostitution and crime, which led to a jail term. Only once freed did she become a songwriter.

David Geffen made Sill the first signing to his Asylum Records label, where she was joined by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt and Tom Waits. Two albums followed in three years but Sill, a woman of gargantuan self-belief, thought herself undervalued by Geffen and an unbridgeable rift developed.

Six years later, aged 35, Sill was found dead in her North Hollywood home, her light extinguished by a combination of cocaine and codeine, a dependency on the latter having resulted from back injuries suffered in a series of car accidents. The only surprise from the coroner was that he judged Sill’s death to be suicide.

In the Radio 4 programme The Lost Genius Of Judee Sill, which you can hear on the BBC iPlayer, Andy Partridge of XTC attempts to sum up The Kiss. “I’m sorry, I can’t [listen to] it,” he says, turning the song off midway through. He’s choking up. “It’s too beautiful. It’s perfect.”

Watch Judee Sill perform The Kiss on The Old Grey Whistle Test below.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.