“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.
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.