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