Sun Kil Moon performs “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock (extended Joy Division version)” with Low frontman

Mark Kozelek performing "I Know It's Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life" on his classical guitar // photo by Sam Schaust

Mark Kozelek performing “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life” on his classical guitar // photo by Sam Schaust

The wind kicked up, reflecting the frigid breath of winter onto the streets of Duluth, Minnesota last Thursday night. Folks in padded coats and fur-lined hoods piled into an unlikely venue, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, for local legends Low opening for the infamous press headliner Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon).

Low’s hourlong set gave way to the smooth, melodic tone of the evening. Their setlist – a slow-churning callback to favorites from albums past – fitly introduced the man who’s gained equal sums of flak and admirers for his recent track “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock”.

A wider view of the Kapeles Manuscript Museum stage as Low plays // photo by Sam Schaust

A wider view of the Karpeles Manuscript Museum stage as Low plays // photo by Sam Schaust

Taking to the narrow stage, Kozelek spoke rather candidly about what some are calling a controversial song, saying “writing it was one of the greatest songwriting experiences I’ve ever had.” He even promised an extended version later on; “one that actually has a climax,” he said. Most of these remarks stemmed from a 15 minute stand up routine that he rattled off like his life’s tale, bringing the audience from his Red House Painters days and up to where he is now. If anyone hadn’t known of the media fuss he’d caused, they definitely do now. Kozelek knows he has haters – he fully admits it – and if you don’t like his behavior, Kozelek isn’t afraid to remind you by saying “I’M FUNNY…I’ve always been funny.”

Without need for any clear transition, Kozelek gripped his mic tight in hand and sang “Micheline” a cappella-style from his Benji record. Tapping his foot to keep in tempo, Kozelek slid into “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, which fit appropriately into his lengthy setlist considering two weeks ago he dropped Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols, his untimely Christmas album. The near-remainder of his set saddled closer to the recordings of Kozelek’s 20-plus year career, in that it was a very intimate experience. His soft-spoken voice resonated deeply within “I Saw The Movie The Song Remains The Same” and at times scaled up to a penetrating howl, reverberating off the minimal two speaker setup during “Dogs”.

As promised, Mr. Kozelek broke into “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock” while utilizing his friend Alan Sparhawk, the man behind Low’s lead vocal and guitar work. “Just think Joy Division,” Kozelek can be heard saying to Sparhawk. Twice through, Sparhawk digs in for a beer commercial lead-guitar solo, both of which crack a rare smile from Kozelek. Watch the full rendition below:

Most of the crowd reciprocated the delicacy of Kozelek’s performance, yet appropriately responding to the brash nature of his true character and deep-seated dark humor. A single incident occurred that may ban alcohol from any future shows at the museum. One inebriated bad apple rudely spoke aloud during the quieter moments of the show, prompting more than one audience member to repeat “hey asshole, shut the fuck up” to the drunkard. Without much prodding, the drunken fella grabbed hold of a random woman’s purse resting aside his six empty beer cans and hucked it at one of the vocalizer’s head. With that, the show stood still. Kozelek sat in awe as the nearby crowd members erupted in favor of the over-zealous boozer’s departure. Not until Kozelek got the full account of events did he continue playing, albeit he was thoroughly entertained by the happenings. “At home in San Francisco, when fights happen, people just talk shit out. It never really escalates into this,” he joked to lighten the mood.

Running up near the two-hour mark, Kozelek stood again and unraveled the mic wire from its stand. Elevating himself, Kozelek balanced atop a piano at the edge of the stage and began bantering a little more, waiting for a couple loudmouths in the back concession area to, as he has become known to say, “shut the fuck up.” His final song, about his girlfriend’s dog passing away (again, sung in a cappella), gave a tender close to the evening, bridled with a long applause to a man who appeared more wholesome than the media actively depicts.

Mark Kozelek getting his footing atop a piano before singing "He Always Felt Like Dancing" in a capella // photo by Sam Schaust

Mark Kozelek getting his footing atop a piano before singing “He Always Felt Like Dancing” in a cappella // photo by Sam Schaust

Mark Kozelek’s setlist:

1. “Micheline”

2. “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

3. “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life”

4. “Hey You Bastards, I’m Still Here”

5. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”

6. “Gustavo”

7. “Dogs”

8. “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same”

9. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” feat. Alan Sparhawk

10. “Little Drummer Boy” feat. Alan Sparhawk

11. “I Got You Babe” feat. Alan Sparhawk

12. “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock (extended Joy Division version)” feat. Alan Sparhawk

13. “Caroline”

14. “Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes”

15. “He Always Felt Like Dancing”

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