Photo by Richard Moriarty
The neon sign with the words “No Photography” isn’t meant to discourage the audience from sharing his performance with others, Tillman explained — it’s to get people to tuck their phones away.
You may know him as the former drummer of Fleet Foxes, or under the singer-songwriter name J. Tillman. Father John Misty, as Tillman is now known, takes listeners on an emotional roller-coaster, exerting fierce control over every piece he writes. With an unfiltered purity in his voice, Tillman comes across as a musician with a very distinct vision for each of his songs — he knows the sound he wants, and he’s not afraid to write a song straight from his heart (no matter how it may be received).
As one journeys through the FJM collection, it becomes clear that Tillman has no interest in making “popular” music; he’s far more concerned with making the best music he possibly can. He might bathe you in a perfect harmony only to toss you into a clashing battlefield of instrumentals seconds later. And by focusing so intently on the execution, he can create songs worthy of a wide audience’s adoration, too.
On a cool Wednesday night at the Pageant, Tillman launched right into his collection of “meta-ballads of despair” (his words) with “I Love You, Honeybear.” These might be sardonic tunes, but there’s a glimmer of hope in many of his songs. “I Went to the Store One Day” details a chance encounter with someone he grows close with, and Tillman delivered the song with a deeper level of intimacy than most performers can match (let’s just say the hooligan who shouted toward the stage just before the song’s conclusion learned Tillman’s wrath the hard way).
Despite the efforts of a few rhythmic souls around me in the audience, this music is not meant to get you jumping up and down, though Tillman’s sheer enthusiasm for the spotlight (which took only a couple songs to fully blossom) did elevate the temperature of the venue considerably. He gives one of the most charismatic stage performances in the business today, channeling an inner Mick Jagger with the flexibility of a yoga instructor. Still, these songs are best enjoyed when you can bask in the sweet and simple melodies and reflect on what the lyrics mean to him (and you). Tillman had the audience anxiously begging for more after the conclusion of “I’m Writing a Novel,” a stand-out jam from his first record as Father John Misty.
It does seem clear that Josh Tillman and Father John Misty are synonymous, and his band members are each skilled in their own right, but it’s very apparent who is running the show. Tillman fails to introduce the rest of his crew at any point, but doing so would almost feel unnecessary — he is the magnetic presence that grabs our attention. Without the full beard, it would be pretty easy to imagine him taking Hollywood by storm.
At one point. Tillman asked the couples in attendance to pay close attention to a couple of love songs. His message seemed to be that he believes so strongly in love and finding companionship (he chose “Every Man Needs a Companion” for his final song of the night) that he can’t help but remain confused as our methods for finding such relationships have devolved through the years.
We’re all frustrated about being a little “Bored in the USA,” among other things. But it’s performances like these that turn a mindless night into a fully stimulating experience. Another night with the Father can’t come soon enough.