Joshua Tillman has been active in music for over a decade now—however, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard his name. Despite releasing a handful of albums in the mid-2000s, it’s only in recent years that Tillman has begun receiving mainstream attention, first as drummer for the critically-acclaimed folk act Fleet Foxes, and then later under the pseudonym of Father John Misty.
Not that an extensive knowledge of his back catalog was necessary to enjoy his Sept. 23 concert at the LC Pavilion: throughout its duration, Tillman confined himself entirely to his two most recent albums, 2012’s 'Fear Fun' and 2015’s 'I Love You, Honeybear'. Ignore the treacly title of the latter: inside it, you’ll find some of the funniest, most biting (at times even vicious) songwriting appearing on any album this year, paired with rich 70’s-throwback instrumentation that draws just as much from Elton John as from The Velvet Underground. I came into this concert hoping that he would do these wonderfully acerbic songs justice, and (spoiler alert) did not leave disappointed.
Indeed, it was striking how much Father John Misty’s persona came through live. From the very first song, which he kicked off by waltzing the mic stand around the stage, Tillman was clearly basking in the crowd’s adoration of him—but he genuinely worked for it too, with one of the most physical performances I’ve ever seen in a live setting. Whether gyrating, snake-like, to some of his more lascivious lyrics, soft-shoeing his way down into the audience, or climbing atop the drum kit, only to continue dancing, Tillman simply exuded charisma—the fact that his material was so good, both lyrically and musically, seemed almost incidental.
It was largely the arrangements that distinguished the songs here from their studio counterparts. Lacking strings and other added embellishments (Tillman was backed by, for all intents and purposes, your basic rock setup) the material was given a much harder edge than on record, with the guitars pushed more to the forefront. In some cases, this worked wonderfully, as with a surprisingly raw rendition of “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow”; in others, like the originally much more exotic “Chateau Lobby #4,” it went over less well, but served as an interesting reinterpretation of the original song nevertheless.
Pyrotechnics were kept to a minimum: with the exception of a neon “No Photography” sign, which in itself seemed like a bit of a joke, and a few well-placed strobe lights which flickered on during the more high-energy moments, the focus was placed entirely on Tillman and his backing band. And why shouldn’t it have been? I can’t imagine that extra bells and whistles would have much enhanced the experience; Father John Misty proved plenty electrifying on his own.
Over the course of the concert, Tillman played his newest album in its entirety, albeit out-of-order and broken up by cuts from earlier in his career. He ended the set with one of those earlier tracks: “Everyman Needs A Companion,” the stomping epic that closes out Fear Fun. With its grand, practically messianic posturing (the lyrics name-check everyone from Jesus to Joseph Campbell), it provided the perfect ending to a gloriously tongue-in-cheek experience.
In case you can’t already tell, I would highly recommend seeing Father John Misty in concert. Even if you know nothing about the man or his music, you’ll be treated to a truly captivating performance from one of the more unique artists out there right now.