This Little Underground: Mark Kozelek’s maybe not such a dick 

click to enlarge Andrew W.K.

James Dechert

Andrew W.K.

Yes, that was the music of Gainesville indie meteor Hundred Waters on the Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial. Landing one of the world's most primetime spots is an impossible idea for an esoteric homegrown band, but it just happened. Congratulate them when they return (March 13, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts).

The Beat

With the fallout from his very public and scrutinized beef with the War on Drugs still warm, iconoclastic indie-rock star Mark Kozelek came to town (Jan. 31, Dr. Phillips Center). I was hoping I might be able to resist writing a look-at-this-fucking-dick review, but it's amazing how a big-mouth reputation can frame reception. Well, I walked into his solo show – a format that featured him as undiluted and raw as it gets – with big baggage, and he ended up defying it.

With an astringent personality that constantly threatens to eclipse his musical brilliance, Kozelek has a perilously high asshole-to-genius ratio. What arrived onstage, however, was a generous performer in both content – nearly three hours' worth – and engagement.

It must be said that Kozelek's music requires a very focused atmosphere for full effect, so the right conditions are especially crucial for him. Not to validate any of his famous bitchiness, but the man just needs to be put in certain venues. Here in this fine arts theater, that most controlled of performance environments, he wasn't just happy (as far as Mark Kozelek goes, anyway) but very effective. His lyric-dense story songs swung between beautifully crystalline while on guitar and purposefully stark while on simple drums, but always atmospheric and always with veins open.

But it turns out, his personality was integral to the show, and it didn't manifest like you'd think. His edge was unmistakably present, but so was his humanity. Unlike the blowhard attitude he projects, he was sometimes nakedly candid, humble even. Deepening his already cutting rendition of those lyrics with told stories of the things and people behind them would've probably been enough. But his conversational reflections gave even straighter looks within. He chatted with the audience and shared specific, even warm remembrances of Orlando. He even expressed straight-up thankfulness for the privilege of still being able to perform for appreciative people. Damn, didn't see that one coming. Besides honoring requests, that intimacy even had him summon a non-musician audience volunteer to help on drums.

As for Kozelek's Mr. Hyde side, that was wholly carried with dark charm and humor. In fact, he clearly exhibited the controlled pacing and deadpan of a comedian, even sometimes breaking form in laughter when something really tickled him.

Naturally, his mischievous side really hit its apex when performing his controversially humorous song "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock." As if that wickedly sly little tune wasn't enough on its own, he wondered ridiculously mid-song what it might sound like if sung by Glenn Danzig and then immediately followed by singing in full-on Danzig croon to uproarious audience laughter.

In context and totality, Kozelek just didn't quite add up to the ogre he appears to be. Or, at least, he didn't at this very special engagement. For Orlando, it was an evening of surprisingly genuine connection and spontaneity.

Speaking of identity crises, Andrew W.K. also returned to town (Jan. 30, the Social). Between the dawn of the millennium when he exploded and now, much has happened in his world, and the most notable of it's been a dizzying shitstorm of shadow, controversy and legal difficulty instead of music. Unless you're a superfan or a conspiracy nut, you probably just checked out.

But the partying spirit is evergreen and eternal, and it feverishly packed the house for him. After a proper arena intro, his band came out, four guitarists strong. Once Andrew W.K. emerged, it was an all-out Jack-Black-meets-Meatloaf party-rock orgy.

This whole Andrew W.K. thing might be laughable if it weren't for its maximum spirit. There's a lot that's terrible about it, but there's also a lot that's awesome about it, especially as a live phenomenon. This is big, dumb fun with a capital F. Besides, whichever way you get there, anything that brings pure catharsis like this can't be all bad.


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