Mark Kozelek, Corner Hotel, 16 September 2004
Some people do not travel well. Mark Kozelek, for example. Solo acoustic shows seem to be as much an act of belief as musicianship ("can I really sustain an hour-and-a-half just by singing?") and you got the sense that Mark had his doubts pretty much as soon as the plane touched down. Shuffling on to stage with a bottle of water, he spent some time tuning before croaking out a hello and launching into a strange, off-kilter version of Grace Cathedral Park, the vocals not quite matching the sparse finger-picked guitar. After that he seemed to loosen, however, and began some wry stage banter. The highlight was his observation that he was too old to travel and that Melbourne was like Detroit in January.
Next up was a version of New Jersey which hit all the right notes. It wasn't until All Mixed Up though that you got the sense that the gig could take off. The famously soaring vocals began to take flight against his trademark tinkle/drone finger-picking, and it was truly beautiful version. And sadly, that's about where it stopped, because the rest of the gig seemed plagued by a pile of small irritations. Dehydration, cold, jet lag, persistent feedback through the stage monitors, the grating Australian accent, an untuneable six-string - it all seemed too much for Kozelek to wade through. It was a gig of songs rather than a show, and the impression was of a man unprepared, unrehearsed, unhappy with his own performance and seemingly unable to do much about it.
From the audience side, it was a show of songs chopped short, endless retuning of the guitar, forgotten lyrics, songs abandoned because they sounded too much like the previous one and a general sense that he'd rather be elsewhere. Maybe he was joking when he said "After Almost Famous I hoped my acting career would take off and I wouldn't have to do this", but only maybe. The sound was bad - over-miked, guitars very badly balanced, nasty harsh reverb tail on the vocals and beset with a big buzz. It would probably be unfair to blame the sound guy though because it didn't seem like there'd been a sound check and Kozelek's levels were pretty inconsistent.
But against all that, there were glimmers of just how amazing a performer Mark Kozelek really is. The vocals, when they arrive, are incredible. His guitar playing was fairly sloppy in parts, but when it worked you got the sense of both how rhythmic and melodic his song-writing can be, stretching ascending melodies over descending syncopated bass runs. And despite all that, it was not an ill-humoured show and there were rewards to be had. Let's hope the Rob Roy show sees a Kozelek better rested, better prepared and more at ease.