Don’t Fear Fun: Father John Misty + Magic Trick @ The Firebird
For once, I didn’t cheat and study concert videos on YouTube before the show. I longed to mine the element of surprise, but mostly I didn’t want confirmation of my suspicions. But instead of a dry, perfunctory folk show by a clever beardy guy with better things to do, I got a passionate, patient, animated, and damned sassy stage performance. In front of a sold-out crowd, no less!
I don’t know how he is in the streets, but in front of a crowd, Father John Misty, a.k.a. Joshua Tillman, a.k.a. J. Tillman, a.k.a. Nancy? sounds (and dances) like Teddy Thompson doing a faithful, but non-campy, Rufus Wainwright impersonation. He hitched his hips and struck flailing poses in a kind of calculated, slightly-drunken Elvis sort of way. He could have been performing in front of a giant mirror for how he got lost in his moves. It was mesmerizing. His inside-out, fitted lumberjack thermal rode up on his torso enough times that some drunk bro yelled, “SHOW US YOUR BELLY BUTTON!”
The songs on Fear Fun (Sub Pop Records, 2012) are invariably clever, road weary and just a tiny bit over it, but rich with idiosyncratic detail. The dancing squirted just the right amount of self-aware spray cheese on top. This cracker knows what he’s doing.
Heidegger and Sartre, drinking poppy tea
I could’ve sworn last night I passed out in my van and now these guys are pouring one for me.
I’ll never leave the canyon, ’cause I’m surrounded on all sides
by people writing novels and living on amusement rides.
from “I’m Writing a Novel” by Father John Misty
Tillman just dropped getting trashed with Heidegger and Sartre into a song. And not just any song, a song he told us was titled, “I’m Proud to be an American.” Fortunately, any reservations I had about digging a guy who was raised devout Christian and used to hang with David Bazan and Damien Jurado back in the day (hey, I’m just as afraid of getting sucked into the backdoor of Christianity as the faith-filled Jesus folk are of getting lured away from the flock by godless heathens like me) was already evaporated by the brutal (and weird ass) video for “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” Tillman is a complicated dude. It’s a personal thing.*
But don’t be mistaken, friends: Father John Misty is ALL ABOUT THE CROONING. His voice was clear and it sparkled like a vampire in the sun (Lit major street cred: I just had to Google, “Why do Stephanie Meyer’s vampires sparkle?” because I straight up did not know). The ladies, and quite a few of the dudes, lapped it up like kittens around a saucer of 2%. The band chugged effortlessly through 11 of the 12 songs on Fear Fun, then everyone left. When Tillman came back on stage with just his guitarist and fully embraced the textbook croon via Frank Sinatra’s “Nevertheless (I Love You),” things got kind of weird. Maybe it was because he sat down? I dunno. The sentiment didn’t seem sincere, the magic was dispersed, and the photographer in front of me farted to break the tension.
But the finale! The full band came back out and they covered Canned Heat’s 1968 classic, “On the Road Again” and there was dancing, bass guitar amp feedback, prostrate writhing (with a little help from some spilled beer, which caused Tillman to slip and fall. THAT’S WHY SPILLS GET WIPED UP, YO), and some animated drum worship. [Update: As Jim Utz mentioned on FB, the band seamlessly meandered from "On The Road Again" into Booker T & the MG's "Green Onions" like a dream. I'm heavy into strong-willed songs that evoke the spirit and essence of other great songs, so, I got a huge kick out of it, too.]
A showman, a shaman, a faithful liar and a lazy ladies man, Tillman might not know for certain what his name is, but whatever he picks, someone’s gonna be screaming it before the end of the night.
*Weird internet serendipity: I intended to quote Doctor Who with “It’s a Personal Thing” (Asylum of the Daleks, seventh season, episode 1, shut it! Doctor Who is a religion! I don’t have to justify myself to anyone!), but when I went to hunt down the animated gif that goes with the quote, I found a song of that name, from the 1994 album On the Fritz by Steve “The Clown Prince of Christian Music” Taylor. Said song contains the following verse:
I’m devout, I’m sincere and I’m proud to say
That it’s had exactly no effect on who I am today.
I believe for the benefit for all mankind
In the total separation of church and mind.
If Steve Taylor is the Clown Prince of Christian music, J. Tillman is the Goblin King.
1. Funtimes in Babylon
2. O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me
3. Nancy from Now On
4. I’m Writing a Novel
5. Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2
6. This is Sally Hatchet
7. Well, You Can Do It Without Me
8. Now I’m Learning to Love the War
9. Tee Pees 1-12
10. Everyman Needs a Companion
11. Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Nevertheless (Sinatra cover)
On The Road Again (Canned Heat Cover)
Opener Magic Trick, San Francisco Psych Rocker Tim (Fresh & Onlys) Cohen’s side project, was kind of awkward but adorable.
The harmonies took awhile to shake right and Cohen seemed (to me at least) kind of hostile to the audience (and it was unprovoked, for a change). His co-singer, Alicia Vanden Heuvel, attempted to round off his sharp edges by being nice to us, but there was definitely something weird going on. Which was unfortunate, because Ruler of the Night is a sincere and human album, and I was looking forward to seeing that play out on stage. Unguarded sincerity is hard to pull off in a place you’ve never played before. I understand, and I hope they come back and give us another chance.
Huge thanks to Jess Luther for her amazeballs photos. Go look at the rest of them here and here. Be sure to check out Kate McD’s bitchin pictures of the night on KDHX.org.