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Last night at the House of Blues was nothing but fun times in Babylon thanks to the always insane, ever-angular stage persona that is Father John Misty. After a terrific open from up-and-comers Wild Nothing, who have ravaged the summer festival circuit with a string of dates to come, Josh Tillman and friends entered the stage to Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”, and immediately disowned it.
“Goddamn it, I hate that we came onstage to that,” the good father said before launching into the opening track from 2012’s Fear Fun. “It’s an arbitrary song on an iPod. We’re supposed to enter to Tori Amos’ cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.” So it begins, defying the expectation one might have of the mellow indie fare that provided Tillman, who had previously worked on six solo albums as J. Tillman and a brief but memorable stint as the drummer for Fleet Foxes with breakout success, he fills the performance with sarcasm and exaggerated Morrisonian (can I get away with inventing that word? Does that make me a jerk?*) dance moves. He’s mocking his material, himself, and the audience at every opportunity, but his fans lap it up with an urgency.
Accompanied with a band that appeared to take a wrong turn for an Americana festival, Father John Misty performed amped-up renditions of nearly all of Fear Fun, including “I’m Writing a Novel”, “Nancy From Now On”, “Only Son of a Ladies’ Man”, and a magnificent on-and-on guitar solo to wrap “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”. Tillman went back and forth speaking in his tenor speaking voice to soaring into his folksy high notes, occasionally playing the acoustic but preferring to swing the mic stand around and move his arms in ninety degree angles. “Tonight it’s the House of Fun!” he exclaimed with a small leap into the air, laughing. Between songs he’d name his band in the vein of old blues masters (“I’m a blues man, sold my soul at a crossroads and all that”), and teased the audience with a sampling of new material during the encore. “Bored in the U.S.A.” is less vibrant than the Technicolor Fear Fun tracks, as is “I Love You, Honeybear”, but it’s just the next incarnation of Josh Tillman—he’s constantly reinventing his sound and image, and no one is on par with his intelligence to argue.
With a limited library to pull from and over a year of touring with Fear Fun, the FJM crew is constantly looking for ways to make a show different and fun, whether this means pretending to be tired and lying on the House of Blues stage during the opening number, practicing poses and bullying Tillman’s personal assistant into using the spotlight, or stopping the set to do some Q&A. In case you were wondering: no, Tillman isn’t into Kanye, his favorite sandwich bread is “two fluffy white slices of self-loving”, and he was a little evasive on exactly how tripped he was at Bonnaroo. The encore included a ballsy cover of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” where Tillman hit Lennon’s high notes with ease, sandwiched between the two tracks we can only hope will appear on a new album. With an engagement and a seemingly nonstop tour schedule in place, we can only hope he finds the time between what one can only assume is an intense regiment of beard combing and reading large leather volumes of something or other.
Father John Misty has already accomplished what he came here to do—he’s expressed a desire to be an underappreciated great a la Nick Drake or Townes Van Zandt, and his only concerns should be that people will start to like him too much. He’s the most restless, engaging live act you could see and the only one who could get away with calling the people standing on the mezzanine “goddamn senators or something”. In another world, he’d be the best stand-up comedian in the country, but we’re happy to take the dancing man with the gorgeous voice who wants us to hate ourselves a little.
*It does, it definitely makes me a jerk.