Photos and review by Kat Pierro.
I am a true devoted follower of Father John Misty and his gospel. There is no one more adept at handling mounds of criticisms than Josh Tillman’s musical persona.
Father John Misty and his merry backing band played the newly christened Brooklyn Steel on the second of their three New York shows. As one of the first dates of his ever expanding tour, Tillman was fresh. He kept up his playful stage presence yet definitely toned it down compared to the last few times I’ve seen him perform. At Governor’s Ball 2016 he was grinding up on the mic stand pseudo-seductively and foolishly, a delightful contradiction to his political folk ballads. At this show, we see the refined dare I say reformed Father John Misty. He still dances as he falls to his knees in his tight fitting suit. He still does his conversational hand gestures while singing that adds that extra dose of comedy to his performance. But he wasn’t trying to distract from what he was saying and there’s an essence to that in his latest release Pure Comedy as well.
The set started with the titular track off his third album going into a medley of his newer songs. By song three or four the crowd was starting to get a bit impatient for him to sing from his past albums. Understandably so as he ended up performing seven songs consecutively off the new LP. Once Father John did segue into his older odes, the crowd was ravenous for it. He started slow, crooning “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” effectively prompting many couples to start making out. Dedicated to his now wife, the ballad is a stream of conscious of how amorous he is for her. Next up were the heavy hitters from both I Love You, Honeybear and Fear Fun. It was a moment of collective delight and awe.
By this point the concert felt more like a jolly campfire singalong. His songs become mantras to his fans, encapsulating complex emotions and ideas better than most. His brilliant blend of both the literal and the metaphorical creates music that is more than about something or someone, its a story. It is beyond prosaic lyricism it’s poetry. He closed part one of the show with “Ideal Husband” leaving the stage for mere moments only to return for a break of his infamous inter-song banter.
Now as much of a poet as Josh Tillman is, he is renowned for his incredibly dark wit. First thing he says when he gets back on stage “Sorry guys I had to moisturize”, which in between the subsequent giggles a girl screams “you do you!”. He hears this and replies “Thank you seriously I needed that today” and explains she is right next to the ambient microphone on stage so he can hear everything even if she spoke at half the volume she did. So what does microphone girl say in response to this: “I LOVE YOU!” Josh chuckles and put on false sincerity “I am only accepting literal love at the moment and I am a very selfish love-maker. Is that a deal breaker? No? Where do you live?” The crowds laughter turned to eager anticipation when a roadie hands him his acoustic, and Father John Misty begins what is probably the longest encore session I’ve seen.
Six songs in total, Father John Misty returns to lament this dismal capitalistic world with “Bored in the U.S.A.” and “The Memo”. We went with him through a debaucherous bender on “I’m Writing a Novel”. Then he cheers up with his summertime pop single “Real Love Baby” only to take it back to classic Misty style on “Holy Shit”. Closing it out once an for all he sings “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain”. All in all you get what you came for, I walked out of that show feeling like it ticked all the boxes. I heard every song I wanted to hear. I enjoyed the funny banter. And of course, there was Tillman’s signature stage presence in his role as a overly self aware savior.
In my post concert depression I formulated this observation: Father John Misty isn’t really a person, not exactly a persona either. It’s kind of a personification, more of an embodiment, of a creative cynical conscious. Each album depicting the internal struggle of working through a conflict whether it be with society (Pure Comedy), with relationships (I Love You, Honeybear), or within one’s self (Fear Fun).