A Born Performer: Father John Misty brings humor and heartache to Union Transfer
Atop a velvety-red high school talent show style curtain, life flickers nervously into a heart-shaped neon sign that reads, “No Photography” as if it has watched over the old Spaghetti Warehouse floor for years. Father John Misty’s band takes the stage and greets the sold-out Union Transfer crowd’s ovation with the swelling intro to I Love You, Honeybear, the title track off Misty’s cherished 2015 love-LP. Josh Tillman, the man behind the moniker, prances on stage donning black head-to-toe, topped with a big ol’ hat I can only assume he snagged from the Scarecrow of Oz in exchange for some ‘shrooms and a private show. After staggering about the the stage bathed in blood-red light, his golden pipes a-blazin’ microphone stand a-flailin’, Father John bids us goodnight and his roadies begin unplugging guitars and packing up. Concert over.
Oh, right – it’s April 1st! Hardy har har. Back on stage, Misty’s [actual] set featured all of I Love You, Honeybear save its tear-jerking final track, “I Went To The Store One Day” (which, to be fair, was on tap as the evening’s final encore but ended up getting cut. Thanks, noise ordinances). “We’re going to move quickly, if you don’t mind,” he said. “Let’s get intimate.” “True Affection”, ILYH’s lush synthetic track about putting the goddamn phone away, came alive with thick drums and Tillman’s pitch-perfect falsetto, closing with a lurid, high-voltage jam à la Daft Punk. Other tunes like “When You’re Smiling And Astride Me” and “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” found Father John down on his knees howling about the raw perfection of love, or rather, of his for his wife, Emma. Those who came hoping for a Wednesday-night party got their hips shaking and heads bobbing on the fast-rolling “I’m Writing A Novel” and the hard-rocking “The Ideal Husband”. On that last one, Tillman exuded what I’d call Kurt Cobain levels of unbridled emotional tumult. Other tunes from 2012’s Fear Fun got plain trippy (see: “This is Sally Hatchet” guitar solo and the hauntingly poetic chorus of “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2”). Then, of course, there’s Tillman’s sense of humor. Midway through his set, he indulged the crowd with a Q&A session – one fan asked him to introduce the band. “Believe you me,” Father John replied, “this is a meticulously engineered evening of folk-rock. I plan to introduce the band at the moment that will yield optimum pants-moisture.” He also confessed to using said moisture to slick back his hair before shows. At the end of “Bored In The USA”, he snatched a fan’s iPhone and recorded a selfie video, saying, “I would now like to address everyone on YouTube. If you’re watching this video… you’re probably not watching this video. Probably no one’s watching this video.” He smiles and laughs as the crowd gets rowdy. “You people are really something else. Well, that’s my message to Youtube.” (You can watch the video below: he grabs the phone at around the six-minute mark) There’s also the fact that, when Tillman isn’t on his knees breaking hearts with his velveteen voice, he’s practically parodying his own act (which is both brilliant and hilarious, especially considering his moves would be stellar even if he wasn’t being sardonic).
Now about that “No Photography” sign. You’d think that I, a photographer at heart (and not to forget, by practice), might be a little bummed by the fact that all my photos were doomed to bear the scar of expertly executed anti-photography irony, or that a tour manager threatened to confiscate my camera and take naughty pictures (“and not the kind that you want to see”) should I be caught with my finger on the shutter button after the first three songs, or that Tillman was almost exclusively backlit during those first three songs. But I wasn’t in the slightest. See, Father John Misty is perhaps the best act in music today at translating beautiful records into life-changing shows; he’s a natural songwriter, a born performer. That’s not something you want to watch through a viewfinder or an iPhone screen.