Lone Bellow in Concert, A Joyous Spectacle.

The Lone Bellow on stage at The Ark

The Lone Bellow on stage at The Ark

When I decided to check out the show on Thursday, June 20 at The Ark in Ann Arbor MI where I was for a conference, I expected something pretty mellow. The Lone Bellow were headlining with an opening act called The Saint Johns. It had been a very busy few days, but I did find time to listen to the first song of NPR Tiny Desk Concert linked from the page announcing the show in The Ark website. It’s called “You Never Need Nobody,” and it is performed acoustically in the NPR offices, as the Tiny Desk Concerts always are. I liked it and decided to go. I didn’t have time to read anything else.

Now it says right there on the web page of the venue that “The Ark is Ann Arbor’s nonprofit home for acoustic music,” and that it presents “performers who fall into the wide-ranging genres of folk and roots music.” I love that stuff, and judging from video, as well as their name, The Lone Bellow would be an example of it par excellence.  I looked looked at them in that video, dressed in dark colors, playing acoustic instruments, singing a song about heartbreak… They even had a mandolin…  I knew what to expect.  This would be a show full of sad, mountain music, albeit interpreted by New Yorkers, because the page said they hailed from Brooklyn.  That was cool by me.  I love that stuff!  Wow, was I ever in for a surprise, a good one, but a surprise nonetheless!  Continue reading

Father John Misty at The Fillmore, 06212013

The stage before Father John Misty arrives

The Stage at the Fillmore for Father John Misty

“Father John Misty” (Josh Tillman’s stage name), is a square-jawed, blue-eyed, wavy-dark-blond-haired model-handsome man who had everyone in the audience, men and women alike, screaming out how they loved him. Faithful to his irony-filled persona, he tossed out oddly sincere soundbites, such as “Everyone, thank you for all you do that’s good.” The audience, caught up in wanting to capture this sinuous creature singing in a such an enticing manner, held up a Milky Way of smartphones, trying to capture the moment for Instagram or YouTube. He snatched up a pink-cased one and filmed himself performing, to delighted laughter. Despite the sometimes disturbing images of his lyrics, the trippy voyages his songs take, the overall effect is so outsizedly comic that it’s impossible to take too seriously.

I don’t recall exactly where I first heard of Father John Misty. I believe it was in a recommendation from Spotify, or another cloud-based modern music jukebox. It was the songwriting that first drew me in, with lyrics that read like a miniaturized “Day of the Locust” that attracted me. Most of his subjects are religious or scenes of Los Angeles decadence. “I’m Writing A Novel” is a particularly hilarious satire of Hollywood’s abundance of screenwriters, casual relationships and a fast-moving blur of faces going past.

FJM singing at The Fillmore

FJM singing at The Fillmore

What kept me coming back is his voice. Very unlike most rock performers, FJM has an excellent and powerful voice with a great emotional range but also technically fine, one that he uses throughout the song to support those witty lyrics. I read of it being compared to Roy Orbison, and while I don’t agree that they sound at all alike, I do think that he’s one of the rare performers whose flexible range is employed well without being showy. It’s often pointed out in biographic clips on Tillman that he was previously the drummer for Seattle indie folk group Fleet Foxes. That’d be where the resemblance ends. His energetic vocals and drum backing do not resemble that group at all.

Misty opened with “Funtimes in Babylon,” a country-toasted wistful ballad that showcased his lovely voice. That characteristic, a pensive and regretful song that combines an inner ache with a surface veneer of cheeriness, makes his songs so listenable over and over.

I would like to abuse my lungs
Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved
Ride around the wreckage on a horse knee-deep in blood
Look out Hollywood, here I come

The final number of his set, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” begins with a hard and sexy drubbing from percussion, joined by a lick from the guitar, rhythmically coursing through images with hints of menace, finishing with the plaintive plea, “Someone’s gotta help me dig…” Well-received set that will help establish a solid fan base for this upcomer. Misty, who recently played a well-received set at Bonnaroo, seems destined to be changing the course of the current sound for a while.

Father John Misty

Father John Misty at The Fillmore

Official Site: http://www.fatherjohnmisty.net/
SubPop Records Artist Profile: http://www.subpop.com/artists/father_john_misty