by – Sion Weatherhead
“I wonder if he’s married?” I heard a woman ask behind me through a veil of her thick Irish accent. Her friend replied “I d’no” looking a little rosy herself with an unthinking smile. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Many don’t pay close attention to lyrics. Still, I had to hold my mirth. Considering this entire album was dedicated to Emma, his wife, it was a little funny that someone could be asking.
The Friday night show at the Mandela Hall – a venue with history of hosting a plethora of great bands in the likes of Radiohead and Blur – was sold out and filled to the brim with people from all walks of life; an indication of a good artist.
However, Father John Misty a.k.a Josh Tillman, being what he is, it is funny to see people who’re not paying attention to what he is saying. He is almost as much a comedian as he is a musician. Not to say his songs are filled with jokes, they are honest remarks soaked in an intelligent style of humour.
With his unique blend of sincerity and sarcasm, his observations in his lyrics makes for one unique quality that sets him apart from the over saturated indie scene. Especially when the unrelentingly crass verses are juxtaposed by being dressed in fine vestments of traditional rock ’n’ roll and folk music he writes.
What’s more remarkable about Father John Misty is his immaculate compositions. Played live; it becomes evident that the music is not just a simple device created to deliver carefully written lyrics as many singer-songwriters do. They are true gems that play on classic themes that are modernized in subtle ways and are orchestral in it’s fluidity and magnificence. As a testament to that fact his music seems to lure in some inattentive listeners – such as the two Irish women – who aren’t really aware of the incongruous lyrics sung in his beautiful timber voice.
That said, there were enough people that certainly came for the comedy in his music. It’s hard to ignore, really, with his dramatically expressive, sinuous dancing – watching him play live amplifies the whole experience. The crowd was lapping it up.
During his anthemic, sarcastic number: Bored in the USA; people applauded at each remark made in the song, which, if you were to close your eyes, sounds sincerely melancholic and beautiful and could not be any more heartfelt. If you open your eyes, however, you’re greeted by his straight face and mannerisms taking the piss out of every sentiment. And as the song reached the last verses – in which the recorded version contains canned laughter – the knowing audience filled the gaps with their own sarcastic laughs – they bellowed it out as hard as they could. I truly wonder what those Irish women were thinking when people suddenly started roaring with laughter at the awfully sad and despairing voice in front of them.
His interaction with the crowd was also a great part of his show, the best I’ve seen in all my years, actually. Towards the end of Bored in the USA, he bent down and took one of the audience’s camera phone which was recording his performance. He proceeded to sing the song straight into the camera, slowly turning, crooning as the audience cheered on. He then put the phone in his pocket and said “I will return this at the end of the show” he kept it there for what may have been a chilling few minutes for the owner, but he took it out and handed it back to the girl.
“Who was dragged here tonight by their partners?” he asked; a mixture of reluctant and confident hands went up. He smiled to himself as he looked down and said “Yeah? Don’t worry, I promise this will get you laid.” he said with quiet confidence. And proceeded to play When You’re Smiling and Astride Me his most honest and sincere love song.
The amazing thing about Father John Misty is that he struts and dances around the stage frantically, but his voice never falters. It remains fully composed and stable, incredibly precise. It’s a true wonder. And you soon realise that he is one of the very few “true rock stars” of today, along with Dave Grohl or Josh Homme.
During his thrashing performance of Ideal Husband before the last verse, he literally threw his guitar overhead through the small crack between his synth player and lead guitarist – which was barely caught by a stage tech – and screamed the last verse into the microphone unlike any of his songs. Effortlessly showing to people: yeah I can do this shit, too.
When Misty was brought back for the customary encore. He slowly walked on stage and spoke quietly “So this is highly unorthodox.” he said “I was actually half way to the bus stop when I heard you guys…” the audience laughed “I… don’t, usually do this. But I’d like to consider myself a… bender of the rules…” he went on in a hushed tone “And thought I’d go out of the, ordinarily constructed paradigm, and play you” *paused*. “A couple of my… conspicuously left out.. ‘massive hits’…” he said and finished off with Went to the Store One Day and Every Man Needs a Companion.
From start to end, it was a perfect show – with my only complaint being the sound not being as clear as it could, but that’s likely due to the shape of the venue. Bottom line, if you get the chance, go see this man. It will be worth every penny.
Photo credit: Sion Weatherhead
Father John Misty is coming to Australia this year.
Sunday, December 6 – Max Watt’s, Brisbane QLD
Thursday, December 10 – The Forum, Melbourne VIC
Saturday, December 5 – Fairgrounds Festival, Berry NSW
Tuesday, December 8 – Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW
Saturday, December 12 – Meredith Music Festival VIC