- by Kyle Kersey Rating: Release Date: Label:
My quest to compare the incomparable continues with Father John Misty (or Josh Tillman, Papa Tom Whisky, Feather Jam Ministry, Taco Bean Sexy, etc.) Since having the ability to actually go see live acts, I’ve experienced King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard in a ballroom, Kendrick Lamar in an arena, Metallica in a stadium, and Fleet Foxes in a Theater. Suffice it to say, I’ve been lucky enough to catch some fantastic shows since attending my first last March (seriously, I recommend catching all of these artists in concert), but they are all so incompatible with one another, each an entirely different genre in an entirely different venue.
Father John Misty isn't different (he's actually very different but you get the point). Sure, he’s a folk artist (kind of?), playing in a small theater. On the surface, this sounds comparable to Fleet Foxes, where Tillman was even a former percussionist. But that’s where the similarities end, as one was a brilliant evocation of alternative folk music and the other a one man stage performance with a backing band.
But first, some context.
I like to think of concerts as an odyssey of sorts, partly because I have to travel 120 or so miles to the capital hub of Phoenix to see most acts I’m interested in (for as big as Tucson is, there’s really only two active music venues I follow).
I didn’t expect to get an e-mail back. This is Sub Pop after all, the independent record label known both for fostering the Seattle sound and sending out rejection letters to prospective signees that open “Dear loser”. Besides, I’m just some guy who just happens to write music reviews in my spare time asking for free tickets to one of their more popular artists. “Dear Loser” would be a merciful act.
But I did receive an e-mail. And it didn’t begin “Dear Loser”, but rather “thanks for the e-mail”. And just like that, I was on the Sub Pop guest list with a +1, excitedly prancing around the house like an idiot (though an idiot who gets tickets for writing online music reviews mind you).
After convincing my friend Kevin to drive us in his luxurious 13 mile-to-the-gallon Toyota 4 Runner and borrowing my girlfriend’s HD Canon camera (which neither I nor Kevin knew how to use properly), we set off for the Orpheum Theater deep in the desert lights of Phoenix, Arizona.
Then we turned back, as Kevin’s 4 Runner had decided to explode transmission fluid on the interstate. God giveth and God taketh away I suppose, but we did eventually get there, sacrificing nutrition to arrive a few minutes before the doors opened.
You know it’s a fancy establishment when they charge 3 dollars for an airplane-sized cup of soda (the kind where they fill it with ice and pour half a can). Too fancy for the likes of me anyway. The audience was split between the hipsters and the high society types in formal attire; button-down shirts with ties, slacks, and even a few suits amongst the crowd. I had worn my King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard concert T-shirt to blend in with the cool hipster cliques, but even they had the decency to wear their finest flannel. It made me wonder if the elites knew who was performing? At one point I head an usher ask in passing “so who is this guy?” to which her usher friend responded, “I think he’s one of those Seattle types”. Perhaps not.
Before Mr. Tillman took the stage, a group calling themselves Weyes Blood played a short 30 minute-or-so set. I had absolutely no idea who they were and, judging by the activity at their merch table, neither did anyone else. While Father John Misty had a team of 5 or 6 people serving a line extending to the box office, Weyes Blood’s had only a young woman enjoying a nice Chipotle Taco Bowl and no line whatsoever. It’s a shame. They were a good opening act; your typical indie reverb love affair, each organ heavy song blending into the next. What truly made their sound though was the beautiful, damn-near operatic, voice of their lead singer, a woman who, from my perspective in the back of the theater, appeared to be a descendent of Cousin Itt from the Addams Family when her hair flailed in front of her face. Even if they were a bit simplistic, there’s a beauty to their brand of music.
About 30 minutes later, the house lights dimmed again and Father John Misty took the stage to the opening notes of “Pure Comedy”, backed by a band complete with a Zack Galifianakis look-alike on guitar. They sounded fantastic. The band was tight and well-mixed, shifting through each sound in his three-album catalog with ease with Tillman’s vocals shining through with studio quality.
For the most part, the set is a mix of I Love You Honeybear and this year’s Pure Comedy, both fantastically sarcastic and cynical albums. Later on in the set, he played a beautiful cover of Tom Petty’s “To Find a Friend” as a sort of personal "in memoriam" to the late songwriter. What made this concert special, to me at least, was the wide range of emotions on display. It’s a common theme amongst this persona’s music; a dark undertone of cynicism that collides with childlike ambition.
In a way, it felt like a one man theater performance, a sort of quip-filled tour into the mind of Josh Tillman as he flailed about on stage like an octopus in a washing machine. Originally, it was going to be a full blown musical, and while there wasn’t choreography or an elaborate set, that feeling was still present in the concert. I noticed it first on “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow”, where he put down the guitar and started strutting about the stage, mic in hand, musing “Why the long face, jerkoff?” Between the small venue and interactions with crowd, it was a very intimate concert. The Orpheum’s floor seating capacity is really no larger than that of my high school auditorium.
We all stood up and sang along to his firey rendition of “I Love You Honeybear”, and we would remain standing for the three encore tracks as well. It’s fitting that “Holy Shit” was the closer. In a way, it’s the manifesto of this character Tillman has created to express himself, to live life in pursuit what he truly believes in, written to describe his feelings on his wedding day. It’s fitting ending to this quasi-musical.
His tour in the United States just ended, but he’ll be starting the European leg of the Pure Comedy Tour in the United Kingdom on November 1st. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Photo credits: Kevin Joel Olson (Professional Photographer)