Editor's note: The writer of this article originally estimated fewer than 25 people at the concert. Eli Mardock, owner of Vega, informed the Daily Nebraskan that the venue recorded 86 people in attendance. This review has been changed to reflect that number.
Last Tuesday night, Mark Kozelek invited residents of Lincoln for a night of tunes at Vega. For the price of $18, concertgoers enjoyed an intimate gathering curated by the man behind Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters, among numerous other solo albums.
After a solid minute of arranging himself in the silence following the blunt observation, the Ohio native said, “There was a four-hour delay for my flight in Denver today. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired so I’m just gonna go ahead and do whatever the f--- I want.” And so the show began.
Kozelek stayed true to his word and started by performing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” sans guitar, simply stating that he enjoys Christmas music and that was all the explanation needed. Afterwards, Kozelek sat down and took up his guitar.
Kozelek’s live performances can be described using a myriad of loaded words, but emotionless does not dot the list. The raw nature of his lyrics is only magnified by the absolute passion he slings at the audience, regardless of fatigue.
The strain was visible on Kozelek’s face during his performance of “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes,” which saw an exchange of the singer’s guitar for a tom drum. The song featured an intense Kozelek seamlessly piloting his vocals through both shouts and whispers, challenging the world to question his authenticity.
His storybook style of songwriting fit in perfectly with his way of performing and even more so at Vega, a smaller venue that did not feature the usual turnout associated with a Kozelek concert. Kozelek remarked that the place was packed last year when he performed in Lincoln.
Between songs, Kozelek did not shy away from speaking to the audience and wasn’t afraid to adlib on many of his songs, no matter how out of place it seemed. Before performing “The Possum,” a song from Sun Kil Moon’s latest album, Kozelek joked with the crowd and said that, “This next song is off a really good album and that’s according to everybody but Pitchfork, who apparently found out that I’m a bad person.”
Later, when he performed “I Love My Mother” from his critically-acclaimed album “Benji,” Kozelek prefaced it by saying, “Now this song is off a really, really, really, really good album according to Pitchfork. But that was before they found out I was a bad person.”
Laughter wasn’t uncommon during the show, and Kozelek often poked fun at the primarily male audience saying he missed the days when girls actually came to his shows and then he asked several members of the crowd where their girlfriends were at.
None of the songs felt like a canned performance straight from the album and the variations were subtle but enjoyable. Kozelek put on a show that was as memorable for its banter as it was for its songs. The concert carried an air with it that felt more like a friendly house party than a show, with Kozelek as the crowd’s host and primary entertainer.