Joshua Tillman aka J. Tillman aka Father John Misty is a lyrical genius. I’m a bit of a fan. But I’ve been let down by the man before. Genius or not, we all have our off days. Lollapalooza in Chicago, earlier this year, was certainly one of them. But this night – Father John Misty’s Opera House debut* – was not. It was an evening of wonderful music, joyful (sarcastic) banter and even if the nature of the venue made it a bit hard to find flow at the start, it wasn’t long before he had us in the palm of his hands.
Emerging with a four piece band and a simple but incredibly well executed light show – amplified by drowning the venue in smoke – Tillman launched into the title track off his latest album, “I Love You, Honeybear”, before delivering two more off the new record. In fact, the set included all 11 tracks off the release, alongside a healthy dose of favourites from Fear Fun. “Only Son of the Ladiesman” came early and “Everyman Needs a Companion” ended the night – which, by his argument, must make the song his biggest “folk megahit”. It was the only song that had the crowd on their feet (by his encouragement), though one may argue the same for “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, which was an earlier highlight.
But it isn’t just Tillman’s well known songs that excel on stage. Tracks off the new record like “Holy Shit” and especially main set closer “The Ideal Husband” were incredible; amplified by his band’s impressive (and big) sound. More so than the music from its predecessor, much of his new record sounded like it was meant to be explored live – and indeed, select track soared above their original recordings.
While much of the set saw Tillman swinging his hips in a way that would make Elvis blush, during heavier numbers like “The Ideal Husband”, Tillman wriggles on the ground, screaming “seven in the morning” with unmatched passion and intensity. He jumps up onto the drum kit. He collapses onto his knees. His performance isn’t just emotive lyrically – it’s a physical performance in every sense of the word. He shines in the environment, even if his tone seems to insist he doesn’t want to be there at all. But that’s all part of the swagger isn’t it? Seeing Tillman’s face and hands while he performs seems as essential as hearing the music itself. And then there is his banter…
For the first half of the set, he was a man of few words – well, outside of his expertly crafted song lyrics anyway. The described “stiff” nature of the venue seemed to discourage Tillman at the start – though it didn’t stop a few in the crowd for shouting out every chance they had. s the set progressed, he conversed more and more, providing insight to his tracks that only added to the enjoyable sarcastic tone that he embodies so beautifully in his lyrics. “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” was prefaced as “the most despicable song I’ve ever written”, while “Bored in the USA” was a “deeply sarcastic meta ballad about dispair”. Touché.
He even held true to his word to hold an impromptu Q&A session with the audience at the start of his encore. He was undoubtedly being sarcastic in the promise in the first instance, but it became one of the evening’s more enjoyable moments. Though don’t get the man started on his Grammy nomination.
A songwriter as skilled as any that have come before him, and a fantastic performer – a show from an artist list Father John Misty is what live music is all about. His show at the Sydney Opera House will certainly be one of his most memorable – and among the finest of the year.
I Love You, Honeybear
Only Son of the Ladiesman
When You’re Smiling and Astride Me
The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.
I’m Writing a Novel
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
Nancy From Now On
Bored in the USA
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
This is Sally Hatchet
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Funtimes in Babylon
The Ideal Husband
I Went to the Store One Day
Everyman Needs a Companion
*Yes, he played at the venue with Fleet Foxes, but that was not under the guise of FJM…
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton