Mark Kozelek at the Cedar
By Erik Thompson

Mark Kozelek
March 14, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis

Coming off the electro-clash insanity of the Crystal Castles show on Friday night, it was great to step into the Cedar on Monday evening and see just a chair, a microphone, and an acoustic guitar on stage awaiting Mark Kozelek. And he used just those bare essentials to keep the near-capacity crowd entertained during a nearly two-hour set that was gorgeously intoxicating. It was the first show in Kozelek's incredibly brief U.S. tour, and he was in good spirits all night, joking with the crowd as he grew more comfortable with the room, which gave his somber music a buoyancy that only grew stronger as the show went on.

After the crowd was warned beforehand not to take any photographs or text during the show, Kozelek came out and quipped, "I can't see you anyway, you can do what you want." But thankfully the crowd remained relatively respectful throughout the performance, allowing Kozelek's stirring, impassioned songs to take us all somewhere special. Kozelek eased his way into the set at first, explaining that: "I'm going to get to some more difficult songs in a bit, but it's the first time I've picked up a guitar in over three weeks. After being on tour in Europe for a month, I've had some other things to take care of." But after straightening out some nagging sound and tuning issues, Kozelek was able to put all of those demands aside and lose himself in his music just as we all were, delivering a remarkable version of "Third and Seneca" that even caused Mark himself to sigh deeply after the song was finished.

Kozelek, looking a bit like a young Johnny Cash with his untamed pompadour, is an exceptionally agile guitar player, playfully strumming his Spanish strains and flourishes amidst his wistful songs. You can get so hypnotized by his deft guitar work that you might forget to listen to his moving lyrics. And, once you begin to concentrate on the poignant story he is singing, you might lose focus on the delicate melody of the song. But let them both blend together gracefully and you see why so many people are so passionate about Kozelek's affecting songs. 

The set drew heavily on all facets of Kozelek's career, with old and new material blending smoothly with a few Red House Painters tracks, as well as covers of Modest Mouse, Will Oldham, Genesis (?!), and, in what truly was a real surprise (and easily one of the night's standouts), a stunning rendition of "Natural Light" by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. It was ultimately an all-too-brief number, but was simply gorgeous and moving.
Sound issues plagued the show just a bit, with Kozelek continually asking for his levels to be adjusted, but finally he just told the sound guy hilariously: "Can I get a little bit more reverb on my guitar and vocals, and then you can go and do some blow or something." After asking for the lights to be dimmed even further so that he was shrouded in near-darkness, Kozelek finally seemed truly comfortable, and the show really took off. "Summer Dress" was exquisite, as was a version of the Red House Painters classic "Void." But after a moving rendition of "Half Moon Bay," Kozelek explained, "Usually I play a couple more songs before the encore, but I really have to pee. So, I'll be right back."

You would think that a break like that would kill the momentum that had been building throughout the show, but Mark came right back out and launched into a lovely version of the Red House Painters track "Trailways" that was another of the night's highlights. Actually, the whole half-hour after Kozelek's break was just phenomenal, as "Glenn Tipton," the aforementioned "Natural Light," "Katy Song," and "Carry Me Ohio" were all gorgeous and deeply moving. After genuinely thanking the crowd, Kozelek reminisced a bit: "The Red House Painters actually played this room in the mid-'90s. There were more young ladies at that show, but there were a lot less people there." And with that, Kozelek closed out the night with a passionate version of "Church of the Pines," leaving the audience deeply moved. Mark Kozelek put on a lovely, soul-stirring performance that reminded all of us in attendance of the magic that can happen with just a voice and a guitar.

Critic's Bias: I truly love Kozelek's recorded work, but this was the best live show I've ever seen him put on. 

The Crowd: A nearly full house filled with both die-hard fans and new converts.

Overheard In The Crowd: Thankfully not that much, other than playful banter between the crowd and Kozelek.

Random Notebook Dump: One of the songs from the set made my friend cry. I won't tell you what song, and I won't tell you which friend.

Heron Blue
Up to My Neck in You
Tiny Cities Made of Ashes (Modest Mouse)
New Partner (Will Oldham)
Third and Seneca
Blue Orchids
Australian Winter
Like the River
Summer Dress
Follow You, Follow Me (Genesis)
Half Moon Bay
Trailways (Encore)
Glenn Tipton (Encore)
Natural Light (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone)(Encore)
Katy Song (Encore)
Carry Me Ohio (Encore)
Church of the Pines (Encore)