Father John Misty
With Tess & Dave
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Last night The Observatory hosted Father John Misty, the alter ego of Josh Tillman, for his second appearance during his back-to-back scheduled performances. Despite my excitement, my skeptical self still carried that tendency to fear that a live show won’t compare to the original studio recordings, especially ones as dynamic as the albums Fear Fun, and I Love You, Honeybear. Along with his vocals and occasional acoustic guitar playing, Tillman was accompanied by five other musicians; one who exchanged from rhythm to lead guitar, to lap steel, to synth and backup harmonies, another who played lead electric guitar and then acoustic rhythm guitar, a drummer, keyboardist, and finally a sweet female on percussion and harmony. Despite my cynicism, this combination created a more visceral and impactful experience than I could have even imagined.
On stage, Tillman was wild and reckless and unpredictable, full of vigor and spontaneous action. At times he was slightly contemptuous, but always in a charismatic way. His performance was an intense speculation of himself, which the audience either completely related to, or at least sympathized with. Tillman’s satirical depictions invited individuals in the audience to ultimately reflect about who they really are in relation to the world around them. Stringing associations of lyrics generated from the unique mind of Tillman were organic, and amusing to comprehend and identify with. During “Now I’m Learning to Love the War,” Tillman handed serious thought and a heavy weight to us as listeners, along with a resounding nostalgic sense for the ephemeral. While flawless vocals seemed effortless and powerfully spiritual, the cynic at the root of Tillman always managed to take the forefront, evident as he sang about his inevitable death, “I hope they make something useful out of me.”
Not to be dismissed, Father John Misty’s role as a sex symbol was apparent. He sang fiercely about his muse and wife, Emma, and most of the women in the crowd certainly wished that the words would be about her. Tracks like “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” and “True Affection” from I Love You, Honeybear brought out slightly neurotic, sometimes erotic, tribal-like dancing from the lead singer. During the title track, “I Love You, Honeybear,” Tillman dropped to his knees, microphone in hand, reaching out to hold his fans hands, receiving white spray roses, which he slipped into the breast pocket of his black suit jacket. At times he seemed reckless, as he climbed on the gear, wildly lifted his mic stand in the air, wandered too far to the side of the stage almost right into the audience, and reaching up to the catwalk mezzanine like he meant to climb and hang onto the beams. The crowd comprehended that their duty was to soak in the rich flavor of the wild raconteur that is Father John Misty, and they obliged accordingly.
As the official set finished for the evening, the onlookers waited and whistled, then began the rhythmic clap to bring their ringleader back. When he did return, the place erupted. Slipping his jacket off, he got more comfortable, grabbed his acoustic guitar, and settled under the spotlight just solo at first. “I never do this,” he says, and just like that, without any force, he commanded silence, admiration, and complete attention. Father John Misty truly plucked at our heartstrings during the sentimental performance of “I Went To The Store One Day,” especially with his long, resounding falsetto at the end. To complete the encore, we were left with one last adrenaline rush. Red and white light rapidly flickered, creating the tension needed for, “The Ideal Husband.” At the coda, Father John Misty seemed to have finally lost all control, dropping to his knees yet again, giving his body and breath to his audience as he finished, “I’m tired of running, tired of running, tired of running, let’s put a baby in the oven, wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?”