REVIEW: Sun Kil Moon, Tyne Theatre, Newcastle

Sun Kil Moon shows have a habit of attracting headlines - sometimes for the wrong reasons.
Sun Kil Moon shows have a habit of attracting headlines - sometimes for the wrong reasons.
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For musical reasons or otherwise, Sun Kil Moon shows have a habit of attracting headlines.

An alt-rock figurehead, Mark Kozelek has been performing under the moniker since dissolving his band the Red House Painters in 2001.

And even at 49 it’s one which continues to produce some of the most remarkable material of his career.

Recent years, however, have also uncovered the San Francisco songwriter’s less savoury side, with fans forced to endure a series of ill-judged and sometimes plain nasty rants.

Victims have included musical contemporaries, those paying good money to watch him play and, most distastefully, innocent members of the media – so it’s fair to say excitement for his maiden Newcastle date was tempered with a degree of trepidation.

The night didn’t exactly get off to an ideal start. Playing to a third-full audience at the vastly oversized Tyne Theatre, it took Kozelek but two minutes to have a pop at the sound technician and restart Garden of Lavender, after the initial attempt had become plagued by feedback.

Thankfully, things picked up from then on in - so much so that he managed to negotiate the next two and a half hours in relatively good spirits and without saying anything overly offensive.

There were a few edgy moments, but these were by and large offset by humour, as the crowd gradually warmed to this most volatile of performers.

“If you don’t like David Bowie you get PICKED ON!” he protested, during a mini exodus to the bar following his cover of Win.

“If you don’t like The War on Drugs you get PICKED ON!” he continued, referencing their very public and utterly unnecessary feud.

The latter drew as many groans as it did laughs. He just can’t help himself.

Unsurprisingly, the Philadelphia outfit didn’t make the cut on latest LP Mark Kozelek Sings Favourites - unlike Judy Garland’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s Something Stupid and Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe, all of which received fond renditions tonight.

No less illuminating were his own compositions, many of whose arrangements were adapted to suit the three-piece backing band.

Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails, for instance, stood out with its tense underlying bed of synths, while Richard Ramirez Dies Today of Natural Causes’ fresh guise proved more expansive but no less sinister.

Perhaps best of all was a brand new, in-the-works cut aired as an on-stage experiment.

Exploring issues of hate and gun control, it delved despairingly into recent events in Orlando and Istanbul as well as the murder of singer Christina Grimmie, channelling everything through the medium of Muhammed Ali’s short poem Me, Whee.

As well as being an example of his prolific nature in action, it was also a reminder of his extraordinary gifts as a wordsmith, and that beneath the public persona lies a solid heart.

Indeed, if tonight’s performance proved anything, it’s that Kozelek the sterling, humorous musician is much preferable to Kozelek the obtuse middle-aged grump.

More of this please, Mark!