After a little post-festival-burnout lull, the first band of our new gig-going season was Sun Kil Moon last night downstairs at Audio. The venue had been changed from the far superior Concorde 2 for no obvious reason, which was disappointing, but it still turned out to be an excellent show. Audio is a difficult, some would say unsuitable, live music venue - with its low ceilings and funnel acoustic, quieter solo acts struggle against talkative punters, and even whole bands can fall flat. Last night's support act, Lianne Hall, put on a brave face against the chattering crowd, playing an interesting mix of live-looping on guitar and retro-sounding Casio keyboard, with pleasing vocals and some adept guitar-picking. We realised we'd seen her before, back when we were both in our 20s, at an open-mic type night at the Sanctuary. Then she'd been accompanied by cellist Bela Emerson, and a guy to do her knob-twiddling for her, so last night did feel a little sparse, but enjoyable nonetheless.
I was relieved to see a full band come on for the main event, immediately filling the small space with sound, and largely drowning out those persistently garrulous few. I only had to tap a shoulder once, and then was rather satisfyingly met with apologetic mortification. Although Sun Kil Moon have been around for five years or so (lead singer Mark Kozelek was previously in slowcore progenitors Red House Painters), I only came across them fairly recently via a friend's myspace profile. Perfectly bridging that fantasy gap in my record collection between contemporary Alt. country/Americana (Bright Eyes, Lambchop, Grandaddy) and rambling post-rock (Do Make Say Think, Explosions in the Sky, Tortoise), and exuding the same tender fragility of, say, Low or Pavement, Kozelek's current set-up makes for exhilarating listening.
There was plenty of gentle rocking and closed-eyed head-nodding as the tight four-piece soothed our collective consciousness with an inspiriting set that almost made you forget what a seedy dive you were in. Though I couldn't help thinking how even more fantastic they would have sounded in St George's Church, where such ephiphanic bands really belong. Aside from the odd polite heckle, people don't tend to talk during those gigs either, maybe it's something to do with the religious surroundings - although I suspect that most of the regular audience members are either firm atheists or woolly Brighton-Buddhist types. I suppose if you put a gig on in a nightclub, you can only expect people to act like drunken idiots. But Sun Kil Moon coped admirably with the grotty setting, putting on a memorable performance for a mostly appreciative crowd. Kozelek's reputation as a bit of an introvert was confirmed by the no-cameras policy (hence no photographic evidence) and his unusual position - as lead singer - at the edge of the stage; but the occasional bit of dry banter (mostly about the venue) stopped him coming across as entirely aloof.
Next week we're off to see Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond, at Komedia, and I'm looking forward to seeing how she's progressed since her mind-blowing gig at Green Man in 2007, following the release of a second album, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, this year. Sun Kil Moon have several more UK dates to come on their current UK tour, including an appearance at the End of the Road Festival this weekend - check out their website for details: www.sunkilmoon.com/Tour.html