- by Howard Scott Rating: Release Date: Label:
First, a bit of full disclosure. I am a big fan of Josh Tillman’s music. Father John Misty, as he has called himself for four albums now, brought me out of a darn near twenty year funk of basically ignoring what passed for popular music during that time. When I first heard the otherworldly melodies in conjunction with intelligent, though sometimes strange, lyrics, that showed up on “Fear Fun”, I was hooked like a largemouth in a catch-and-release pond. These sounds took me back to my much younger days when true melody seemed to be everywhere on the FM dial.
So now that I have completely surrendered my objectivity, I can only advise anyone thinking of attending a Father John Misty show for the first, or maybe 21st time, just do it. Regrets are not an option.
Thanks to the friendly folks at Sub Pop Records, I was allowed to take in Saturday night’s show at the Hard Rock Live venue inside Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. I had seen FJM earlier in the year at a music festival in Tampa, and the shortened festival setlist had whetted the appetite for a longer and more enhanced (via a three-piece horn section) experience. There was no disappointment involved with what was presented.
Tillman, dressed in his best John Lennon-on-the-cover-of-Abbey-Road all-white outfit, and the band strolled across the stage just after 9pm after a stirring set by opener King Tuff. They immediately launched into “Hollywood Cemetery Sings”, one of JT’s strongest rockers, and the only song in the entire setlist that includes him playing a real live electric guitar. The building instantly went bonkers.
Tunes from all four Father John Misty studio albums were represented well in the 24 song set. Newcomers “Mr. Tillman”, “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All”, “Hangout At the Gallows”, “Please Don’t Die” “Date Night” and the title tune from latest disc “God’s Favorite Customer” all translated seamlessly to a live performance. Tillman took a rare sit down position to play the piano on the title track, and kibitzed with the audience about how the song could relate to the amusement park setting. “Its like if you have had about seven too many at Margaritaville, and are wandering between it and the ESPN Bar and Grille just praying for an answer,” was his self -deprecating description of a composition that obviously was conceived with a much deeper meaning.
“Hangout At the Gallows” turned into one of the more rambunctious moments of the night. The song has a sound that would have felt right at home on the B-side of “I Am the Walrus”, and it launched Tillman and the audience into complete euphoria. The stage moves that have become such a huge part of a FJM performance were on full display here. Tillman himself has described his stage-dancing as “crucifying Gumby” which gives you a mental image not easily abandoned, and fellow Soundblab writer Kyle Kersey mentioned it in an older review as “an octopus in a washing machine.” (Geez, I wish I had come up with that one!) Whatever you call it, Josh gyrated around the stage, fought a darn near losing battle with the mic stand that almost launched him into the crowd, and had the crowd going completely nuts. It was a highlight in a concert full of them.
Speaking of highlights, “A Bigger Paper Bag” from the “Pure Comedy” album made its debut on this tour cycle. Combined with “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay”, the audience was treated to two of the most impressive creations JT has to offer, both lyrically and musically.
Whether presenting quieter cuts such as “I Went To The Store One Day” or more pop-flavored rockers like “Real Love Baby”, Tillman and the band produce a sound that is every bit as complete as the recorded versions. This is a world class band that has been playing this catalog for a while now, and never an errant note is heard. Guitar and keyboard maestro David Vandervelde, who recently missed a few shows due to the arrival of a new child, is a musician’s musician who can play darn near anything and do it at the top level. Usual guitarist Chris Darley missed the show due to paternity duties, but Joel Graves did a great job of filling the absence. His exuberance at playing also heightened the visual experience.
Dan Bailey (drums) and bassist Elijah Thomson form the rhythm section, and John Titterington and Kyle Flynn make the keyboards fill the ears with ecstasy. Once again, this band is as good as it gets. Add the three-piece horn section and songs like “Chateau Lobby #4” just ooze with aural delight. If there is but one small nag I have taken away from the two shows I have seen, it is that Josh doesn’t introduce any of the band members during the show. It is a small thing, but I think these guys deserve the recognition. Just my probably overvalued two cents.
A four-song encore culminated in “Date Night” and the closer “Ideal Husband”. This duo and positioning made for a perfect, high energy ending that sent everyone into the sticky Florida night fully satiated.
The humorous, self critical stage banter from Tillman, including calling some of his lyrics “so stupid” and looking ahead to a permanent gig at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in a few years (“I don’t think I would have to change my personal style much, do you?”) belie the pretentious reputation that some have pinned on the performer. I think we are all having our legs pulled a bit here, but they are being pulled by a consummate musician, songwriter, and performer who obviously believes in and is highly skilled at giving his audience their money’s worth. The band is about two-thirds of the way through what has been almost a full year of touring that has taken them all over the world. It can’t be easy to go out every couple of nights and put on a near flawless performance, but you certainly wouldn’t know it from this show. It could just as easily have been the first performance of the year. I’ve seen lots of concerts over way too many years, but I can honestly say I have never seen a better one. This was an experience never to be forgotten, and to always be cherished.