Father John Misty
February 9, 2014
Last night, an attractive crowd of canyon ladies and bearded men assembled at the Roxy to watch the also hirsute Father John Misty perform with his band. It was, as FJM announced early in the show, the eve of the release of his second album, I Love You, Honeybear, out today via Sub Pop.
“A very happy release eve to me,” FJM said a few songs into the show. “I’m just going to release everywhere.”
Anyone who has paid attention to the lyrics on the new album and his 2012 debut Fear Fun knows that Misty (real name: Josh Tillman) is a darkly funny songwriter, and deadly serious too. Since parting from the Fleet Foxes, the baroque folk group for whom he was the drummer, Tillman has settled in Los Angeles and has established himself as a modern song man with orchestral bravado, a biting sense of humor, and a limited tolerance for bullshit.
Last night, all of those sensibilities were on display. Tillman was a force. He and his five-piece band came onstage just after 9 p.m. Tall, bearded, handsome and dressed in a suitcoat, Tillman was immediately histrionic, reaching his arms out to touch hands with people in the crowd and flailing about the stage while singing the title track from the new album. It was hard to tell if he was being fully sincere or intentionally overdramatic. Maybe it was both.
The set included a lot of new material, and Tillman delivered the new stuff with so much charisma and ability that the audience did not seem to disengage during the songs they didn’t really know. His voice is fantastically rich, an instrument in and of itself, and he wailed from start to finish. Many of the songs had sweetly country leanings, which somehow disguised the often snarky lyrical content. We all sang along with the brooding “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” the lead single from the new album, and an sweepingly romantic ode to love that infers that Tillman has found loads of happiness in his recent marriage.
The between song banter was on point as well, with Tillman acknowledging the Roxy's history via the “hair metal ghosts in the ether barfing and crying right now,” before pondering, “Where do I come up with this shit?”
The set was often rollicking and, in many moments, a full on guitar rock spectacle. The top-notch musicianship was on par with the literary quotient of Tillman’s often devastating and riotous lyrics. He delivered “Now I'm Learning to Love the War,” a song about the environmental impact of releasing an album, with a certain mock (or not) fatigue. The crowd cheered loud when he sang about “West Hollywood filled with people pretending they don't see the actress and the actress wishing that they could“ during his tremendous cultural critique, “I'm Writing a Novel.”
Tillman is indeed an L.A. storyteller, which is perhaps part of the reason why we loved him so much last night: He appeases both our vanity and our self-awareness by calling us out on our own particular brand of bullshit. “The bar’s all right, it’s just my fucking attitude,” he announced after playing the new “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” a song written about some dude trying to hit on his wife at the Silver Lake bar.
At the end of the show, Tillman walked out in the crowd and sang with his arms in the air while smiling people gathered around, many of them singing along and trying to touch him or take his picture. The set closed with a perfect encore rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” and the devastatingly astute “Bored In the USA,” during which we cheered while he lamented subprime loans and our worthless college educations while leaning up against the microphone stand in a pose of tired frustration.
It’d be bold to assume that we understand Tillman, or that we know what he’s actually thinking. But for all that cannot be read, the most important thing is probably just that by the end of the night, the crowd was singing and dancing with more energy and enthusiasm than when the show started. Couples were holding each other closer. The room was warmer. People were sweaty. On the way out, dudes clutched their new FJM vinyl and talked about how much they enjoyed the show. Last night, Father John Misty made us feel. Hopefully, he felt something too.
Overheard in the crowd: “My friend just got a huge tattoo of the Coachella logo on her forearm.”
Personal bias: I find beards very attractive, and I used to love the Fleet Foxes.