A swarm of hip LA locals and folk music fans gathered at The Wiltern in Los Angeles on Saturday night to watch former member of Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman, perform. Tillman’s latest solo album Fear Fun, released under his nom-de-plume Father John Misty, proved to be aptly named showcasing a blend of eerie lyrics and psychedelic visions. The concert perfectly matched the provocative themes present in the album creating a show both creepy and tons of fun.
Comedian Kate Berlant warmed up the audience as Father John Misty’s opener, donning a black turtleneck and a guitar. She posed as a ridiculously serious artist bent on conveying the artist’s struggle to the crowd. She claimed that plugging in her guitar was “the moment of corruption” and related the inescapable problem of being part of the media. Her humor and wit struck exactly the right chord with her listeners even though she scarcely played more than one chord on her guitar before going on to her next tangent. Right before finishing her set, she threw out bracelets with the words “I feel” written on them and made a crack about how buying the bracelets at the end of the show would help her pay for bus fare home.
Everyone seemed to be in good spirits after Berlant’s shtick, but anticipation was surely growing for Father John Misty. He blessed the stage at around 10pm and was welcomed by hearty applause. Joining him on stage was a woman dressed in a large bunny head, lingerie, and over-the-knee patent leather boots. She sat to the left of stage the entire night, not saying a word. The effect was, strangely enough, not surprising; an air of theatricality was to be expected from an artist such as Father John Misty.
He opened with the upbeat country-sounding “I’m Writing a Novel,” complete with some hip-swinging and sliding. During the song he engaged in a bit of dialogue with the audience and shot knowing nods at the sea of faces. He followed up with the slower “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” which earned him hoots of approval when he sang the lyrics “I’m a Dodger’s fan,” sending love to his fellow LA natives. While the recorded version of the song harbors a bit more grandeur, making use of several instruments instead of just a man and his guitar like this particular show, the live version was just as striking and perhaps, more haunting. After playing a couple songs, Tillman couldn’t help but indulge in some offbeat comedy of his own lowering an enlarged frame of an iPhone on stage and posing for his fans to take pictures making a joke about photo opportunities. He eventually became sick of the oversized frame and waved it away.
Tillman also shared some new material that night, including a biting song about the kind of irritating woman that walks all over men and uses “literally” incorrectly. The song was imbued with bitterness and hilarity, a combination that he does so well. At the end of the song, he informed the audience that it was a “folk song.” Another new song he performed was “Bored in the USA,” featuring a melancholy melody and a meditation on materialism and apathy in the US. The final new track he played was called “This Atom Bomb and Me” and was part of his three-song encore. It had a slower tempo, was almost lullaby-like, and discussed global issues relative to the individual.
Aside from the unveiling of new material, a couple of other highlights from the concert were his absurdist tidbits integrated in to the show and his performance of “Awful Things.” At one point he put down his guitar, took off his coat, and hung it on a clothing rack on stage. He then proceeded to a table where there was a bottle of wine and a glass. He poured the wine to the brim of the glass and then some, allowing it to overflow for a bit before putting down the wine and picking up a bottle of water and drinking from it. He did this all in silence and once he reached the microphone again told the audience they had to cut back on pyrotechnics so all they get is “art.” “Awful Things” was played in the middle of the set and was arguably the most theatrical of the songs played that night. The song itself contains a sort of raw, angry quality as it is something like a confession of his sins and Tillman’s voice grows coarse and howls “and now it’s out.” Throughout the night there were some excellent lighting choices made working to help tell the stories of each song, but during this particular one the spotlight created twin shadows on either side of Tillman. That, plus the content and sound of the track, created a cathartic, devilish effect.
Father John Misty definitely delivered on a show that was equal parts humor, reflection, fun, and wickedness. Every song played sounded clean and clear and the crowd definitely responded to both the mastery of the music and the entertainment of the spectacle.
I’m Writing a Novel
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
I Love You, Honeybear
The Kind of Woman (new unreleased, untitled)
Nancy From Now On
Funtimes in Babylon
Chateau Lobby #9
Well, You Can Do it Without Me
Lady With the Braid (Dory Previn Cover)
Bored in the USA (new, unreleased)
Now I’m Learning to Love the War
Everyman Needs a Companion
This Atom Bomb and Me (new)
O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me