Josh Tillman stands on the stage of Max Watts, bathed in a musty green spotlight. The piano intro of ‘Bored in the USA’ begins to play, a short pause, a moment of contemplation; a grimace fumbles along Tillman’s furrowed brow, before he whispers into the microphone: “handjobs”.
Part rock-show, part stand-up show, part semi-religious experience, a Father John Misty concert is an experience like no other. Never again will you laugh hysterically in the middle of a crowd whilst watching a bearded blues singer tango around the stage, kiss people in the frow, and shove a microphone down his suit pants.
Kicking things off with an erratic rendition of the title track from his acclaimed 2015 album I Love You Honeybear, Tillman displayed what would become ‘normal’ for the rest of the night, as he broke a microphone and jumped into the crowd the instant he stepped on stage. During these more ‘rock n roll’ moments, Tillman rolled around on the stage, flipped his brown mane of matted hair over his eyes, and snapped a microphone stand in half.
The crowd really wasn’t sure how to respond to the personality on stage. It wasn’t clear whether this insane behaviour was just another element of the sarcastic meta-persona that is Father John Misty, or whether his absurdity was part and parcel of the live show. Between songs, an awkward silence hung over the crowd who were genuinely stunned by the antics of the ex-Fleet Foxes drummer. These silences gave Tillman a chance to engage the audience with banter and allowed him to sink deeper into his self-depreciating humour and sarcastic jibes at 21st century living.
Whilst the music itself was consistently outstanding there were instances in the set that felt awkward and out of place. The performance of ‘True Affection’ played strangely like a Passion Pit cover, and many of his lesser-known songs from his debut album Fear Fun were lost on the crowd. However, these moments were few, amidst brilliant songs like like ‘Holy Shit’, ‘Chateau Lobby #4’ and ‘Funtimes In Babylon’, which had the crowd singing and bopping along – still somewhat unsure of how to dance to his blues-pop-country blend of song writing.
When he re-emerged for his self-proclaimed “predetermined list of songs conspicuously absent from the main set”, Tillman felt awkward but loved. The crowd were enamoured with his jokes, (omit) his uncanny ability to throw his body to the ground, his touching lyrics, and his deep connection to the bummed out 20-something ennui which rings true for our generation of slackers and stoners. Father John Misty is hilarious, but he’s hilarious because his jokes are, sadly, so damn true. When you go to a Tillman show you go for the music, but you stay for the sense of being oddly understood.
Words and photos by David Simmons