By: Alex Wood
After reinventing himself as Father John Misty, songwriter Joshua Tillman has become a larger-than-life enigma in the music scene. From his legendary, drug-heavy back-story to his outrageously confident on-stage demeanor, the artist practically turned himself into a legend overnight.
Father John Misty’s sold-out performance at The Vic may have been a last chance to see the artist in a small venue, the high prices of after-market tickets an indication of the colossal demand.
Despite the deliberately manufactured image Tillman created for himself, the music and the presentation remain earnest and genuine, his six-piece backing band breathing new life into the massive compositions.
The concert began with the backing band on stage, Tillman soon following to an uproar of applause. “I Love You, Honeybear” followed, the band hardly visible on the back-lit stage. The performance was elegant yet enormous, with multiple guitars and a violin filling in the dense arrangement as Tillman flings himself emotionally across the stage, dragging and lifting the microphone stand dramatically throughout, crouching to the ground to sing face-to-face with his fans in the front.
This is the manner of a true performer, on par with any of the rock ‘n roll greats. Tillman didn’t simply claim to reinvent himself; he lived the metamorphosis.
Tillman grabbed an acoustic guitar at the song’s finish, playing “Strange Encounter” with two noisy electric guitars backing him and building to its finish. “True Affection” used multiple keyboards, creating an impenetrable web of electronic sound, a glitchy but danceable groove. The song built endlessly upward, becoming the acoustic introduction to “Only Son Of The Ladiesman.”
Though Father John Misty has only released two records, the set felt like a constant surprise as it unraveled, with every song performed a welcome addition to the set list.
Even the simpler folk songs, such as “Ladiesman,” were fleshed out to an unimaginable immensity, using multiple acoustic guitars and a few layers of background vocals.
“Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2” was given a sensual, almost sexual performance, the singer crooning emotionally over deep, pounding drums and a moving musical accompaniment.
The singer’s vocals were flawless throughout, often jumping from a gorgeous falsetto to a gruff yell with a second’s notice.
“Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” slowed the set down to the pace of a dazzling slide-guitar, Tillman playing an acoustic guitar but focusing mostly on the vocals. Yet the song continues to grow, quickly becoming a massive, loud climax, Tillman literally tossing his guitar backstage to grab the microphone stand, swaying dramatically while singing, dragging the stand across the stage.
“This Is Sally Hatchet” featured sharp electric guitars reminiscent of a late-Beatles sound, while “The Ideal Husband” used three guitars and a violin to create a deafening rock sound.
The six band members never stood idle, switching instruments between and during songs. The complex arrangement of “Funtimes In Babylon” featured multiple keyboards, multiple acoustic guitars and mandolin, Tillman handling the difficult falsettos with ease, pausing dramatically before the song’s last line.
Yet as “Holy Shit” opened with Tillman performing alone on an acoustic guitar, it stood as a reminder that the backbone of the show was the songwriting. The songs drew everyone in, and the show was an act to celebrate these songs. Yet as the band entered with an explosion of carefully calculated noise, the accompanying musicians’ importance was emphasized, as one simply can’t stumble upon a sound this big.
Father John Misty leaped into the crowd, girls grabbing his hair and body as he continued to sing into the microphone. This is a show. An act. A ceremony. A celebration.
The band left stage briefly, returning to rowdy cheers and applause for the oddly spacious single “Bored In The USA,” Tillman sitting cross-legged on a speaker at the front of the stage. The audience laughed loudly where the laugh track exists in the original, perhaps a strange indication that the band’s fans do, in fact, understand the songwriter on a meaningful level.
A cover of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” followed, fleshed out by the backing band to the unmistakable sound that only Father John Misty can create, Tillman’s vocals becoming a gritty scream.
“Everyman Needs A Companion” closed the set with a majestic sound, an emotional sing-along written about the singer’s transformation to Father John Misty.
“Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones couldn’t give me a myth so I had to write my own,” he sang. Tillman left stage immediately at the song’s finish, gone before the audience could give a proper ovation.
This is truly the making of a legend.
1.) I Love You, Honeybear
2.) Strange Encounter
3.) True Affection
4.) Only Son Of The Ladiesman
5.) When You’re Smiling And Astride Me
6.) The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.
7.) I’m Writing A Novel
8.) Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2
9.) Chateau Lobby #4
10.) Nancy From Now On
11.) Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow
12.) This Is Sally Hatchet
13.) The Ideal Husband
14.) Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
15.) Funtimes In Babylon
16.) Now I’m Learning To Love The War
17.) Holy Shit
18.) Bored In The USA
19.) I’m Your Man (Leonard Cohen cover)
20.) Everyman Needs A Companion