Now that I’ve had a little time to gather my thoughts, I figured it was a good time to finally write a concert review…

Anyone who knows me knows that this was easily the most anticipated concert of the year for me. While I’ve slacked off somewhat on Sun Kil Moon, I’m a huge Red House Painters fan. The second I heard that Mark Kozelek was coming to The Grey Eagle I was sold. I bought my ticket a month ago, not willing to risk it selling out. I’ve been listening to the roller coaster album and Ocean Beach almost nonstop for the past week. In retrospect, perhaps I built things up a little too much in my mind. As a whole the show was good, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.

The first source of my disappointment came immediately after walking in the door. I was greeted by a sign telling us that the artist has requested there be no photography, video or audio recording, or even cell phone cameras. I’ve never been one of those people who records shows and trades videos and FLAC files, but I do like to snap a few pictures and record a few of my favorite songs, just for my own benefit. Most performers don’t seem to mind that very much; they’re just happy that you came out to the show. So I was a little bummed over that, but I got over it once the show started.

It was clear that this was meant to be an event, more than a concert. It was a seated show, with the lights very dim. Mark Kozelek took the stage, picked up a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, sat on a stool, and went straight to work. It was several songs before he even said a word to the audience, perhaps preferring to let his music do the talking. He opened with a handful of Sun Kil Moon songs, one RHP track, and a few songs I didn’t recognize that might be new. After this initial set of songs he seemed to loosen up a little, talking more and joking around with the audience. He did a few more songs and then brought a friend up to accompany him on a baby grand piano. They played for almost an hour, doing selections from his entire career, along with a brand new song and a song by his pianist’s band. He abruptly ended things and walked off stage, only to return for an encore in which he took requests from several of the audience members.

Mark’s guitar work was both intricate and sublime, something that doesn’t always come across on his recordings. His voice seemingly hasn’t aged a bit, sounding just as sweet and melodic as it did way back in 1992. But the small, quiet, intimate setting kept the spotlight shining brightly on his lyrics – which seems to be what draws most fans to his music in the first place. Of the songs that I wasn’t familiar with, one in particular was extremely moving. Thanks to his no-taping policy and the fact that this song isn’t on any albums, no one really seems to know much about it. The chorus repeats the line “you missed my heart,” amid verses about lost love, addiction, and other pretty bleak themes. I highly recommend searching for “Mark Kozelek” and “you missed my heart.” There is a version on YouTube that is pretty low quality, but the beauty of the song still manages to come across. One can only hope that this song appears on a future release – or at least that someone manages to record a high quality bootleg.

As he loosened up, Mark showed a pretty crazy sense of humor. He commented on an empty seat up front and how it made him sad. A few minutes later a girl from another part of the audience had moved and filled the seat, prompting him to ask for her number and keep a continuous dialog going for the rest of the show. He made many jokes about being old and not being the sex symbol he was in the mid 90’s. Later in the show someone approached the stage and placed a beer at his feet. He proclaimed that he didn’t drink alcohol anymore, but thanks anyway. The audience mostly took this as a joke – the guy did just finish playing a song about heroin addiction – but seeing him with an O’Doul’s after the show makes me think he was being serious. He talked about how Asheville has been hit hard by the recession, joking (I think?) that the last time he was here people actually paid for merchandise with checks.

After the show I was met with my second major disappointment, when I learned that they couldn’t take debit or credit cards for any of the merchandise. Maybe I should have brought my checkbook? I asked the guy at the table if Mark was going to be meeting with people and he said he wasn’t sure. I wandered around for a while until I eventually found a crowd of people gathered, and sure enough, in the center there he was. He didn’t seem particularly interested in talking to most of them, offering short answers and seeming like his head was elsewhere. A girl who I assume he knows personally walked past and waved, and then he quickly broke away from the group to follow her and talk to her alone. She left and he started to walk towards the back and was once again surrounded by people. Again he found a way to break free from the crowd and track down someone else he seemed to know personally. Somehow I managed to get his attention long enough for him to sign the booklet from my copy of the roller coaster CD, which might have been an odd request, considering he only played one song off of it. But alas, it’s one of my favorite albums of the 90’s, so I made sure to bring it for him to sign.

A lot of people might have left this concert with an unflattering picture of Mark – detached, not very friendly, overly quiet and not much of a performer, etc. What I saw was someone very much like myself – an extreme introvert who never really got comfortable with the spotlight and the need to be outgoing and personable night in and night out. The initial set of songs was him warming up and getting used to being on stage. And tuning – he did that after every song. Then as he overcame his inhibitions, he was able to relax and joke around a bit. Having a friend join him on stage made him even more comfortable, to the point of doing an amazing encore of requests (including two from the girl who moved into the empty seat up front, and a beautiful closing version of “Mistress” that sent chills down my spine.) Once he left the stage and got swamped by people, you could see his comfort level quickly eroding, and in typical introvert fashion, he fled the crowds to seek out meaningful conversations with personal friends. I can’t fault the guy for behaving pretty much exactly how I would if I was playing a gig, but I can definitely see how some people might get the wrong impression about the guy. Luckily he is one of the few songwriters who can truly let the songs do the talking. Between his amazingly intricate guitar playing, smooth and soothing vocals, and achingly beautiful lyrics, he could basically do anything he wanted and true fans would still find a lot to love. Overall, it was a slightly disappointing experience, but the positives far outweighed the negatives, so I can’t really complain too much.

 

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