Tuesday, 23 April 2013



at ‘The Duchess of York’, Leeds

‘Can Oliver be a girl’s name over here?’ asks Mark Kozelek hopefully. ‘No?, just that there’s this letter in the Dressing Room saying ‘Mark, I love you’, and it’s signed Oliver.’ As Oliver stands crammed up against the stage-front gazing adoringly from behind curtains of blonde hair at the object of his devotion. Mark wears a scruffed check shirt and slept-in hair. When he opens with “Michael, Where Are You Now?”, he does it solo acoustic, practically ignoring the mike, using it only occasionally for its potential for reverb, effect or emphasis. The song portrays ‘the oldest juvenile delinquent bum, my best friend’, and it catches the exact tone of hazy Beat Bohemia that Red House Painters most perfectly inhabit. ‘We are one of those bands that never rehearse’ he confides. ‘Tonight is not going to be a good show.’ Naturally, he’s wrong. His singing voice is flat, but it’s projected into extremes, his mouth a huge ‘O’ in anguished howl, run ragged with experience. He’s bruised internally, externally. A tramp shining.

Oliver seizes his hand like a leper grasping salvation, and he won’t let go. ‘Oliver, I love you too man, but you don’t understand. There’s – like, enthusiasm, and there’s like – being obnoxious, man.’ Erich Segal wrote the movie ‘Love Story’ about an impossible romance. He followed it with the novel ‘Oliver’s Story’. This is Oliver’s story, and another unrequited love just as intense. But Red House Painters have that effect on people. Bassist Jerry Vessel wears a ‘LUSH’ T-shirt and heavy black-rimmed glasses. Crop-headed thick-set bassist Gordon Mack is beatnik-bearded, and also wears glasses. They play studiously, but poke RHP with a stick – and it bites. “Evil” starts out in Arthur Lee changes, but builds to a climax as insistent as insanity. There’s an impression of shambling disorganisation, songs like “Mistress” or “Katy’s Song” from the vinyl double-album (‘Red House Painters’, 1993, 4AD DAD3008), come in answer to audience shouts and not from premeditation. “Strawberry Hill” is both hand-in-pocket casual, and then stretched on powerful rippling walls of extreme guitar violence. Like “Shadows” – a new song, its mood ‘blends with the state you’re in’. A state of deep surging emotion, songs of tormented love building into huge rages of romantic anger. ‘What’s that Oliver? Yeah – maybe we’ll kiss later.’

In “Uncle Joe” Mark says ‘I’ll try anything three times, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care’. Naturally, he cares. He cares to death, and into the darkness beyond. In “Grace Cathedral Park” he pleads ‘save me from my sickness’, but there ain’t no cure. And “Mother” is a long psychological probe into its murky vortices. Around the play-in phrases for “New Jersey” Mark dips down to catch his words, and Oliver disappears into that uncombed tangle of slept-in hair to kiss that adored cheek. The radiance on his face afterwards is a joy to behold.


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