Photo by DAN LONG
Josh Tillman, AKA Father John Misty, has carved a place for himself in the hearts of many of the indie music audience with his beautiful singing voice, ability to craft accessible songs, and with lyrical content that smashes the veneers that society force feeds us. He’s done all of this after leaving Fleet Foxes because of an inability to work with frontman Robin Pecknold. Tillman’s beef with Pecknold would be the first of many controversies that Tillman would find himself embroiled in. Ryan Adams called Tillman out, saying, “He sounds like shit Elton John but if he was just sitting in a corner staring at his hands on LSD.” If nothing else, Tillman is an outspoken character who’s written songs as Father John Misty that draw attention to issues concerning toxic masculinity, entertainment addiction, and the chaotic, fluid nature of morality, to name a few. A decidedly postmodern act, Father John Misty often turns on all the lights and raises a mirror to himself as well as the audience, an exhausting but liberating experience.
Accompanied on stage by a string section, horn section, pianist, multiple guitarists, bassist, and drummer, Father John Misty cut through the humidity at the Mann Center on Friday night with a show that proved his acumen as a performer. Touring his latest, Pure Comedy, he began the set playing the first four tracks from the album, while sketches of petroglyphs depicting the evolution of civilization was projected onto the stage’s backdrop. In an interview he gave a few years back Tillman said that he’s not a great instrumentalist but he, “Can sing like a motherfucker.” Self-deprecation thinly veiling an outright brag. This is Josh Tillman in a nutshell. The thing is, he really can sing like a motherfucker. He has perfect pitch and seamlessly transitions between registers, without putting too much strain on his voice, allowing him to sing like a motherfucker throughout the set, while accenting lyrics with body flourishes, sometimes twirling his mic stand like a baton.
After playing the first four songs on Pure Comedy, Tillman began interweaving songs from his first two records, but at that point his poignant observation that historians would find our skeletons sitting on couches, our phones in our hands, our jaws contorted into grins, had overwhelmed me, so I spread out a blanket and lied down, staring up at the sky, fighting off the urge to check my phone. Tillman gets criticized for being bombastic and pretentious, but his ability to insert his thought provoking sociology into accessible folk songs is remarkable. It was funny imagining the guy on stage tripping on mushroom while writing “Hold Up” for Beyoncé, pontificating about the implications of writing for a strong, black woman. The whole show was sort of funny, but like I said, it knocked me on my ass. Staring up at the few stars that were visible, my mind moved from questions like, is human intellect overdeveloped? To wondering what it’d be like to have T. Swift in the Oculus Rift every night. The paradoxes and juxtapositions that Father John Misty expressed on Friday night delivered a microcosm of what it feels like to live today, which in itself is a reminder that in a postmodern world, it’s often a struggle to feel alive. — DILLON ALEXANDER