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Mark Kozelek - White Christmas Live

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[This review originally appeared in Pop Culture Press #54, Spring of 2002]


Mark Kozelek
White Christmas Live (Sub Pop)
Capping off a busy year for the Red House Painters' songwriter (as if telling Tom Cruise to "fix your f*cking face" in the bathroom scene in 'Vanilla Sky' wasn't enough!), this limited edition live album is an excellent snapshot of where he was a year or so ago. Recorded during several dates on a solo acoustic tour of Scandinavia in late 2000, this 13-track offering is done no justice by its title. Don't let the title scare you away, as Mark just kind of fumbles his way through the Irving Berlin classic. He redeems himself by bringing life to several tracks from the Painters' 'Old Ramon' album and two AC/DC covers from his solo albums as well. His between song banter is fun ("Don't play the song about the cat..."), and there is an amazing sense of intimacy about this set of songs. Covering "Evil" (from the Painters' 'Bridge' album) without the musical menace the group provides kind of stretches his ability, but he pulls it off, revealing that the magic of the song, bare-boned, is still pretty powerful. Kozelek has such a versatile voice, and it's truly amazing, at times, how just a voice and a guitar can seem like so much. Grab this while you can; it's reportedly a very limited run. (d.n.l)
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Update: Five years later and Mark is back with a second live album named after the one Christmas song on it, 'Little Drummer Boy,' and this one is a double disc. Since I'm writing about it for the next PCP I won't say much except that it's a double disc set, with Kozelek joined by former Painters guitarist Phil Carney. The first disc comes from a variety of shows from 2003 to this past summer while the second is from two shows in Canada this past summer. Drawing on all facets of his career, including his best song ever, "Katy Song," (he tries the transition, but can anything be as incredible as the original?), the Cars cover "All Mixed Up" from '...Blue Guitar,' a smattering of solo highlights, and acoustic versions from the two Sun Kil Moon albums (the second disc goes heavier on the Modest Mouse covers). It's pretty amazing, on first listen.
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I love the new Mark Kozelek live double-Cd. I never got to see the RHP live, so my only Mark Kozelek live experiences have been either Mark solo, with a second guitarist, or with the string quartet on the first Sun Kil Moon tour.

I loved Mark with the backing of the strings - perhaps a live recording of those shows should be released? - but I also love him with a second guitarist. The two guitars together fill up the space and, while keeping Mark somewhat tied to the original versions of the songs as originally recorded, allows for a little freedom to re-arrange some of the music.

The music on "Little Drummer Boy" spans Mark's entire songwriting career with RHP, his solo material, and as Sun Kil Moon. The sound quality is excellent and Mark's voice is like velvet over the beautiful acoustic guitars. I prefer "Little Drummer Boy" to "White Christmas Live," not only for the quality of the recordings, but also because Mark doesn't meander too far off the original versions of the songs I have grown to love as they were recorded for the original albums.

I wholeheartedly agree about the first SKM tour... if he released a live album of that material, I'd be all over it. The backing strings added so much depth.
I'm actually curious as to why, after the effort that must have been put forth on Mark's part to have the music transcribed for the string players (not to mention rehearsing with the strings), that he didn't release a live record after/during that tour. I'm sure there are some live recordings from that tour floating around though...
if anyone can give me details on the ltd 4lp set, please mail me at hement.gopal@wits.ac.za.
was this released? or is it yet to be released?