Mark Kozelek (former Red House Painters) at the Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen West), Friday (January 30). $12.50. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
The Red House painters may not be the best-selling band, but the indie rockers do seem to have a loyal fan base, especially the tortured alt-rock dreamboat frontman with the Neil Young lilt, Mark Kozelek. Fawning interviews and articles singing Kozelek's praises as a songwriter with emotional depth (oh, yeah, baby, you touch me way down deep) and an artist who's just a regular guy (squeal! can you believe it!?) reek of the wet panties of young college girls (and boys). Cute. Gross, but cute.
This, plus the psychedelic dream folk-pop of Kozelek's latest release as Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts Of The Great Highway, plus the fact that he hasn't checked into the hotel I'm supposed to call him at and his PR guy has no idea where he is, has me worried that I'm about to deal with one of those aggrieved and inflated songwriter egos. Oh, no! Has he disappeared to be alone with his meaningful thoughts?
But no. Kozelek's still at home in San Franciso with the flu and has just delayed his departure.
"I just didn't have it in me to get on a plane."
But no worries. He still intends to make it over here. All by his lonesome.
Sun Kil Moon is one of those sort of solo projects, sort of band things - kind of like Brian Jonestown Massacre.
He explains that Sun Kil Moon is made up mostly of members of Red House Painters, including Anthony Koutsos, plus Tim Mooney (American Music Club), Geoff Stanfield (formerly of Black Lab) and a string trio from the San Francisco Conservatory.
Ghosts Of The Great Highway is a departure from his previous recordings.
"My last two solo records were covers, so this is the first disc of all originals in a while. This record really came from my soul and my heart."
The covers were of John Denver and AC/DC tunes that Kozelek made his own. Yes, he's a metal fan. It was part of his childhood. But by the time he was done with AC/DC, some people thought he was covering Leonard Cohen.
"It was just an exercise in demonstrating that there are so many different ways to do things and to give people who might otherwise be closed-minded the idea that there might be something to this music. I think I did the same thing with the John Denver tribute."
Ghosts Of The Great Highway is a collection of mellow-paced and melodic tales of Kozelek's past. The guitars layered with strings and Kozelek's signature vocals create a pleasantly haunting sound. It's often difficult to make out the all-important lyrics, but one does catch enough of them to understand in Glenn Tipton, for example, that he's writing about a complex string of events involving two Judas Priest guitarists (Tipton and KK Downing), two boxers (Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay) and memories of his father watching television and a friend who died young.
Throughout the disc, Kozelek, when intelligible, weaves touching stories and displays impressive lyrical talent. The pace becomes a tad tiresome after a few tracks but picks up and lands on harder turf when he gets to Lily And Parrots. Also featured is a 15-minute version of the previously released Duk Koo Kim.
As for his acting career (he played Stillwater's bass player in Almost Famous), he has a role in the Steve Martin movie called Shopgirl that's coming out soon, but has no intention of becoming an actor.
"Acting's not a big passion of mine or anything."
Kozelek is a major boxing fan. So what does he think about Felix Trinidad calling a rematch with Oscar De La Hoya?
"He is? I remember that fight. He won, didn't he? Well, De La Hoya's got more incentive to win this time around, and he did pretty good in his last Shane Mosley fight. And Trinidad's been out for a while, so I guess I would bet on De La Hoya."