Review: Father John Misty’s annual Sydney sermon thrills with Honeybear and Jack Ladder

In his second visit to our shores on the Pure Comedy tour (he was last here in July for Splendour in the Grass), Father John Misty delivered what has become something of an annual sermon to a packed Enmore Theatre in Sydney. In it, the great J Tillman leant primarily on his 2015 release I Love You, Honeybear, playing through it almost in its entirety across a packed two hour set.

Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders (featuring Laurence Pike, Donny Benet etc.) were enjoying support duties, playing a set of new tunes after a healthy absence between shows in his hometown. With his last release in 2014, and new single “Susan” dropping mid way through last year, we can safely call his next LP “eagerly anticipated” by all of us here at the AU. And when it comes to the new music, the set promised we’re in for a solid release, with tracks like “Tell It Like It Is” particularly memorable as the group played with their usual charm, wit and skill.

After a short break, Father John Misty hit the stage to a hero’s welcome. It was my third time seeing Tillman on his Pure Comedy tour, named well for the general hilarity of the man himself; often ironic due to the subject matter of his catalogue. But it was “I Love You, Honeybear” that opened the night, off the album of the same name, with a spare background and a six piece band behind him, seeming to indicate this would be more a trip down memory lane than a celebration of his latest release.

Indeed, the set that followed saw the group perform their 2015 album almost in its entirety; even his debut Fear Fun had more attention than Pure Comedy. A recognition, no doubt, that in his last shows in the country, fans enjoyed a set almost entirely devoted to the new material.

Hitting every note with ease and swagger, Tillman proved as impressive as ever. His performances are, in a word, extraordinary, though his banter was notably less tonight than in some other sets I’ve seen from the former Fleet Foxes drummer. He did say, about halfway through the show, that he was focusing up the expectations for his banter. And as the set continued – particularly towards the end as he delivered a hilarious speech for his Grammy win for Best Recording Package (“proof that it’s what outside that counts”) – he fit in the odd anecdote and kept the crowd on its toes. But for the most part, he really did let the music – in all its lyrical splendour – speak for itself.

Banter or not, it did take a while for the set to kick into gear – and it wasn’t until Tillman moved away from the mic and stepped up the theatrics in “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” that things really kicked in; Tillman moving purposefully around the stage, commanding the crowd to his attention. Tracks that followed, like “Total Entertainment Forever”, “Ballad of the Dying Man” and “I’m Writing a Novel” were particularly impressive, with the band also stepping it up a notch – a piano solo in the latter track proving particularly memorable.

A five song encore started similarly slow with “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” and the non-album track “Real Love Baby”, but then ended with his mentioned Grammy speech and the incredible “The Ideal Husband”, which took the energy of the room up to 11 and saw the stage’s light show at its peak. After that, some pre-recorded Pure Comedy horns (notably absent earlier as he tours Australia without a brass section) played and the crowd seemed duly satisfied as Tillman blew as all a kiss.

Fans of the latest album may have initially been disappointed to have heard less of the album than they might have expected, and it did take almost half the set for things to really kick into gear. But when you’ve got a band that sounds this good – from first to last note (top marks to the mix too) – and a man who is this impeccable with his lyrics and vocals (not to mention swagger), you’re transfixed from start to finish. It’s hard to feel anything but awe. There’s simply no live show on the planet like a Father John Misty concert.

Setlist
I Love You, Honeybear
Nancy From Now On
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2
The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.
Funtimes in Babylon
Strange Encounter
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
Total Entertainment Forever
Bored in the USA
Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
Ballad of the Dying Man
True Affection
I’m Writing a Novel
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Pure Comedy

Encore:
When You’re Smiling and Astride Me
Real Love Baby
So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain
Holy Shit
The Ideal Husband

Father John Misty next plays Melbourne for a sold out show at The Forum on 9th February. He’s also touring with the Laneway Festival, playing all dates.

The writer attended the performance on 31st January 2018 at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney.