How apt. Watching Mark Kozelek in tornado weather — humid, rainy and darkÂ — mirrored my mood inside Turner Hall. Mark Kozelek’s songs in Red House Painters and beyond colored my adolescence — and not the particularly good bits. Whenever I dealt with break-ups or deaths or mopey sadness, I played his songs.
It was then equally thrilling and odd to watch a man whose words and melodies meant so much to me. Kozelek appeared onstage with a guitar and an accompanist. Instead of making the night feel like a glamorized Open Mic night, the sparse instrumentation enhanced the desolation in his songs.
He opened with two Modest Mouse covers: “Trucker’s Atlas” and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” from Sun Kil Moon’s “Tiny Cities.” In between songs, he commented on how Milwaukee seemed very much like Glasgow: “old and gloomy.”
Kozelek, who looked more like a steady and serious bookkeeper than a rockstar, also sang songs off the latest Sun Kil Moon album, “April.” After “Heron Blue,” he did “Gentle Moon” off “Ghosts of the Great Highway,” and then a more upbeat version of “Carry Me Ohio.” He also played the Red House Painters classic “Summer Dress,” to which I had to bite my knuckles to keep from swooning.
Each song seemed to last forever, and pauses between songs were opportunities to pop open beer cans or walk to the bathroom. Throughout the night Kozelek spun a web of beautiful moroseness through the audience, which was great if you’re a fan, but hard to appreciate if you don’t feel emotionally attached to his songs. After all, it’s hard to listen to someone be sad for two hours, no matter how beautiful the process is.
I watched the show with a friend who wasn’t a fan, and wondered if Kozlelek lost him halfway through. But even Kozelek said he was expecting drunk rednecks with cellphones…instead he got an appreciative and respectul Milwaukee audience. “I’ll come back,” he promised, “if I’m still alive.”
In the end we got an encore too: Kozelek alone finished the show off with an abrupt version of “Three-Legged Cat.”