I had the great pleasure of sharing another live music experience with friends last night. For two hours and then some we basked in the performance of Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon at the venerable Varsity Theater in Minneapolis.

In contrast to my previous Sun Kil Moon shows, this one featured the backing of a full band. While this format served to overshadow a lot of the delicacy of his guitar playing, I think it also injected a level of energy the almost militantly laconic/cranky Kozelek rarely reaches as a solo performer. Aside: Mark was in a generous mood (for him) last night, and that made for a slightly more rewarding evening than his last, reverb-obsessed, appearance at the Cedar.

I’ll say a few brief things about the set list before embarking on my rant. The new album, Benji, despite repeated listens, has failed to connect with me in the same way that many of the earlier records have. So, if asked, I would have suggested not opening by playing almost exclusively from the Benji material. “Carissa” is a winner, as is “Micheline;” however, nothing in the new songs reaches the heights scaled with tracks like “Carry Me Ohio,” “The Leaning Tree,” or “Lost Verses,” just to name three. In the grand scheme of things, this is merely a quibble. What I really found curious was the decision to completely forsake those seminal SKM records – Ghosts of the Great Highway, April, and Admiral Fell Promises (not to mention the brilliant Tiny Cities) – in assembling the list. Also left behind was the classic Red House Painters-era “Katy Song.”

On the other hand, I loved “Gustavo,” from the collaboration with The Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle (Perils From The Sea, which I purchased last night) and the encore closing “You Missed My Heart,” which you can hear above. Last I checked, I don’t get a vote on the set list. What I got was a night of terrific music and fellowship.

(Rant Alert)

Here’s what bothers me about the live music experience, especially at these wonderful local venues such as the Varsity, First Avenue, and The Fine Line (I see it as less a problem at the Cedar, who are clearly doing something right). I will never understand the ethos that suggests a live music show is an appropriate setting for continual, blathering, conversation. This is a problem especially while the support is playing at most of these clubs, but for the hardcore asshole it can continue right through the headliner’s set. And – NO – standing at the back of the room, talking ever louder so as to ensure your entirely useless discussion can be heard, does not excuse you nor make you any less annoying. 

Do yourselves, and – more importantly – the rest of us, a favor. Most crucially, do a courtesy to the artists:

If your pointless inanities are so crucially in need of constant and immediate expression, at loud decibels, in a public setting…save your $25, and head over to the local bar. I assure that you will fit right in. Your constant chatter, in addition to being an unwelcome distraction for those of us who came to, you know, LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, is immensely disrespectful to the performers. I can assure you that absolutely no one bought a ticket hoping to hear about your new haircut.

No one would accept it if a small group in the back of a theatre carried on party conversation during the opening act of a play. We’d shout them down and have them escorted from the hall. You don’t get to say, “Well, the actors in this scene are fairly minor. The leads don’t really show up until the third act. So let’s continue our discussion of Rhett’s hip replacement.” You commit to paying attention. That’s why you are at the play. FOR THE PERFORMERS AND THE PERFORMANCE. You: are not the performance.

I think we need a new ethos to hold sway at these shows. Hell yes, have your drinks. Enjoy the company of your fellow woman and man. But when the artist comes out on the stage – every artist – pay them the respect they deserve. Pay them the courtesy of your attention. Engage with the event. Don’t ignore or upstage it.

(Rant over)

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