Father John Misty @ Neumos, Seattle, WA 05.07.12
From a character standpoint, Josh Tillman's transformation from somber and quiet solo artist (and drummer of the Fleet Foxes) into the overblown braggadocio of Father John Misty is quite a stretch. On record, all of his work has some foundational similarities; with Misty, personality comes to the forefront. Assuming the role of the somewhat-fictional Father John Misty, Tillman has given himself license to be freed from the constraints of the sensitive, castrated modern day folk singer. Misty is a lascivious, cantankerous character whose debaucherous tales of womanizing and drunken blackouts are a far cry from the Fleet Foxes' plaintive cries to pick apples all the live long day. It's a bit of a Will Rogers meets Hugh Hefner character, balancing witty anecdotes on human nature with an unapologetic raging hard on.
On his "debut" record (Fear Fun), Misty works seamlessly. Tillman's voice is immediately commanding in its richness and his obvious control of it, and he builds many different storylines over the record's journey. When he wants to sound joyous (the Waylon Jennings-isms of "Well, You Can Do It Without Me"), he sounds as if he's recording the vocals sitting shotgun on a Fandango-like road trip. When he projects lonely desperation (the "someone's gotta help me dig" line on "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"), he sounds downright frantic, on the edge of a nervous breakdown if someone doesn't scramble for a shovel soon.
Live, the Misty character takes a few songs to process, and even then, it's a little confounding. Tillman shakes his hips suggestively and flails his arms like a magician who can't quite get his trick to conjure properly. Most of the set was spent trying to figure out if he's completely lost in the moment or if his attempts to sell it are some sort of giant joke on the audience. Depending on your vantage point, Tillman's presentation is either feral or forced; sometimes it was both. Certain songs sold the character better than others; "Nancy From Now On" and "Ladiesman" benefitted from Misty's cocksure presence, while more somber songs like "Sally Hatchet" sounded rock solid but were a bit visually discordant, watching Tillman shimmy a bit too emphatically to what feels like one of the more plain-faced deliveries on the album.
Watching Tillman break not one, but two molds (leaving behind a known solo career, as well as the drum throne for the not-doing-half-bad Fleet Foxes) to chase down this dream is inspiring, frankly. While the execution of the character in the live setting may not always come off smoothly (or maybe that's Tillman pulling an Andy Kaufman on us), the music remains the center of the equation. Sometimes you have to search for years to find your voice, and in Tillman's case, his voice is someone else's. Every single shimmy, strut, strum and step that Tillman takes in Misty's shoes is unpredictable, brave, and unlike anything else you'll hear this year.
Father John Misty Setlist:
- I'm Writing A Novel
- Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2
- Nancy From Now On
- Only Son Of The Ladiesman
- This Is Sally Hatchet
- Well, You Can Do It Without Me
- Now I'm Learning To Love The War
- Everyman Needs A Companion
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
- -ENCORE 2-
- Funtimes in Babylon