Sun Kil Moon brought little more than a keyboard and microphone to The Tuning Fork last night, but delivered a spoken word performance filled with almost three hours of subversive comedy and deeply personal human observation.
Although Sun Kil Moon has been around since 2002, their fifth album in 2012, Among The Leaves, introduced the deeply personal lyrics that made up much of their performance in Auckland last night. While making the album, Mark Kozelek, the constant, driving force behind Sun Kil Moon since 2002, spoke about his desire to ‘remind people that there was a time when music required an attention span,’ and last night’s unique mix of baritone spoken word and improv crowd control was an experience that demanded, and invited, the crowd’s attention.
Playing without anything longer than half a cigarette break for 170 minutes, it was a test of physical stamina for many of the attendees, and the length of some songs brought premature applause before their final verse. But this was balanced with Kozelek’s extremely dry wit and connection with the crowd, where a misunderstood shout of “Failure!” and a front-row fan asking about guitar tunings provided some of the most entertaining and genuine moments of the evening.
Sun Kil Moon is a project of evolution, and this tour strips away guitar and places Kozelek on stage with only a microphone and lyrics sheet, backed by Ben Boye on keyboard and sound board. Boye was fantastic as support, both in his humble presence and talent on the keys. Adapting to Kozelek’s pacing across many of the lengthy songs was impressive enough, but the pairing of Boye’s playing intensified the challenging, observational emotion in Kozelek’s lyrics.
Lyrically, the set covered the experiences and thoughts of a passionate musician living a mostly ordinary life. Being on the road is about eating thai food and ditching glamour, a plane flight focuses on the pain of possibly losing a long-time pet, and a scene at a nearby cafe shows the cruelty and humanity in much of the world through Kozelek’s eyes.
This led to songs that were rarely about a perfect situation, but instead largely filled with ordinary, relatable subjects: relationships, work, disappointment, confusion, sadness, happiness, hopefulness. In connecting with a crowd and bringing out a depth of human emotion, this is where Sun Kil Moon were at their most perfect. The set ended with the 25-minute Bay of Kotor, which captured the essence of the gig; often feeling too long, wild and unpredictable, and subversive in its mix of human tragedy and observational comedy.
But this incarnation of Sun Kil Moon wasn’t about having you sing along or dance uncontrollably. It was about rewarded fans for paying attention, for being present, for disconnecting from their phones and the worries of the outside world. In doing so, we spent nearly three hours exploring the life of a man consumed by his creativity, and were given a performance that felt just as beautiful, flawed, and painfully human.
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