Father John Misty | 01.08.13

fatherjohnmisty sqFather John Misty croons you out of that dark place, practically skipping and swinging sparklers in the air while he plies you with a glass of spirits, a wink, and smile.


The Firebird, St. Louis

From the looks of varied social media outlet feeds and countless “I can’t wait until tonight”s from friends, I was not alone in my giddy anticipation for the Father John Misty show at Firebird. For many a listener, Fear Fun was a breath of fresh air, much as it seems it was for its creator, Joshua Tillman. A couple of years ago, Tillman left his position as drummer with Fleet Foxes and abandoned the sound and feel of his previous releases as J. Tillman. He loaded a van up with some mind-altering substances, wrote a novel, and crafted his new musical voice that is a far cry from the lovely but bleak landscape of song that was J. Tillman.FJM cdaniel_250

If you’ve ever been in a position where you’ve felt out of place in your own skin, where the person you’ve been walking around inside of and calling your “self” doesn’t resemble you in any way, you will understand what he said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune: “I just thought it was funny that at some point the dissonance between what I perceived to be myself and this J. Tillman person wasn’t tenable anymore. I didn’t answer for J. Tillman. I didn’t walk around feeling like J. Tillman. It was like this weird alter ego. Once you realize your own name can be an alter ego, you’re like, ‘Well, what does a name matter? I’ll just call it whatever.’”

His new creation has its own kind of darkness simmering underneath, and in songs like “Now I’m Learning to Love the War,” clearly points out “the jealous side of mankind’s death wish.” The difference is that, instead of the music quietly strumming you into a depressive mental break, you are sashayed down a path by a modern day Pied Piper whose flute is a voice as warm and rich as Roy Orbison’s. Father John Misty croons you out of that dark place, practically skipping and swinging sparklers in the air while he plies you with a glass of spirits, a wink, and smile, singing, “Pour me another drink and punch me in the face.”

The opener of the evening’s festivities was Magic Trick, a band out of San Francisco fronted by Tim Cohen of the Fresh & Onlys. Their sound is a blend of ’60s psychedelic rock and ’70 s folk with a touch of surf music thrown in the mix. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really expecting to love them as much as I did. I gave their LP, Ruler of the Night, a listen the afternoon of the concert and it was just sort of ho-hum for me. However, hearing them live was a totally different beast. With the exception of the track “Next to Nothing,” there’s a hollowness, an almost tinny quality to the album recordings that I did not enjoy. Live, their sound was fuller and more substantial and the surf music vibe much more pronounced. I thought they were a good fit as the opening act.

I’ve ranted many a time about audiences, and tonight had its share of frustrations in the same-old, same-old form of folks who can’t handle their liquor, talk loudly during the quietest songs and while the performers are speaking, and shout out completely inane bullshit. However, they were few and far between, and I found myself concentrating more on the positive and the endearing. There was a towering fella near me who stood nearly still as a statue for the entire night, other than pursing his lips to the beat of the music. His calm but frozen facial expression changed exactly twice into a wide, open-mouthed grin at Tillman’s jokes. He tickled the hell out of me.

Also, I’m always impressed by our local photographers who are so supportive and encouraging of one another, exchanging places regularly and politely to enable each other the shot they are looking to get. That’s a beautiful thing to watch. I like it when I see couples swaying together, smiles exchanged between strangers who are bonding together over the music and a beer held up in the air toward the band. All in all, for such a crowded room, it was a pretty respectful crowd. They even waited until song number three of Father John Misty’s set to start toking up. That shows incredible restraint.

To say that Father John Misty’s backing band blew me away is the understatement of 2013 thus far. They created a seriously impressive wall of luscious sound, while their front man wooed us all with his hypnotic vocals and over-the-top, burlesque-style moves. With a shimmy here and a shake of the hips, jazz hands, or fingers mimicking a stocking pulled up the thigh, Tillman is playing the clown—but he’s still one foxy clown. After all, there’s nothing sexier than a sense of humor.

He showcased that sense of humor throughout the night. Near the beginning of the set, someone yelled out “Moist!” in response to an inquiry of how we were all doing. Tillman responded, “What’s that, good sir? Moist? Moist. Perfect. Song two, song two’s a good point to be gettin’ moist. By song seven if you’re still just moist, let me know. I’ll course correct… Father John Moisty. What a stupid band name. Shoulda gone with Misty.”

Later, he made mention of the much-beloved selection of games at Firebird, “When I was a dishwasher in Seattle, I used to go to this bar during my break and play Lord of the Rings pinball. And around that same time in my life, when I was washing dishes, would most mornings I would wake up on the couch to the Lord of the Rings menu screen still playing. It’s like waking up every morning to the most heroic music imaginable to accompany probably the least heroic life imaginable.” He then proceeded to hum the theme music in a loop and continued, “As I’m like getting my bus transfer, I have that song in my head, just mocking me, a piece of pizza still on my shirt.”

One by one, Father John Misty performed the vibrant songs from Fear Fun that showcase all of that wit, charm, and sonorous vocals for which Tillman is getting noticed. However, as I alluded to earlier, it’s not just him on the stage; he has surrounded himself with a backing band that is simply sublime. In addition, whoever was running the board that night did his job masterfully. It was the best sound I’ve heard at Firebird, pretty much ever. They ended the night with a crazy good, electrifying cover of Canned Heat’s arrangement of “On the Road Again”. I might get yelled at by some people for saying this, but I’ll throw caution to the wind and say I think Father John Misty’s performance of it beats Canned Heat by a mile. I want them to record that song, like, yesterday. More importantly, I am already eager for whatever Mr. Misty has up his sleeve to tempt us with next. | Janet Rhoads

Photo: C. Daniel

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