Twelve months ago I had no idea who Father John Misty was. I’d never read about him, I’d never listened to him, I’d never seen his picture in a magazine. I couldn’t say why that is, but that all changed with the release of I Love You, Honeybear last year. The record was the perfect introduction, and it ended up as one of my favorite records of the year. Josh Tillman, who goes by that absurdly cool stage name, released an absurdly cool record to match it, and on the 29th May, in Atlanta, he put on an absurdly cool live show.
Tillman, as implied by his stage name, is a mystical and mysterious man, happy to be a little bit weird and in turn a little bit wonderful. There aren’t many musicians like him currently releasing music, and I’m inclined to say that there aren’t too many live performers like him out there either. Father John Misty is a live experience well worth witnessing, and seeing him is akin to being baptized, being cleansed. There’s something animalistic and primitive about his on-stage persona, but there’s also something pure and sweet about the songs he plays. Tillman toes the line between saint and sinner with abundant style. He throws himself about the stage like a man possessed, a man pining for some sort of release, thrusting limbs out towards the audience and dropping to his knees in order to get closer, raising his head to the rafters as if praying. He is a mesmeric figure standing above the crowd, and he holds their attention in a cushioned grip throughout, as he struts about the stage and croons his way through choice cuts from his last two records across a nineteen song set. He splits these records evenly, nine songs from each, the first half of his set favouring songs from debut LP Fear Fun. From these tracks Nancy From Now On is a clear highlight, sweet and sentimental as Tillman delivers it in a fashion near iconic, while Tee Pee 1-12 bounces and jives, Tillman matches it’s charm. He doesn’t interact with the crowd a great deal in between the songs here, but to do so would be to break the illusion, and he seems placed upon a pedestal placed upon the stage. His set oozes sex, and songs such as While You’re Smiling And Astride Me are intoxicating as a result, intimate as Tillman walks slowly around the stage and reaches down on occasion into the audience at his feet. Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins) sounds triumphant, the room swaying in time, and it’s one of the finer cuts from I Love You, Honeybear, a good deal of which ends his set.
Three of these songs feature late on, and the run of Bored In The USA into Holy Shit into True Affection is as captivating as it is compelling. The first song connects and the second sparks sympathy, the crowd rallying around Tillman’s self-deprecating lyrics after supplying the laugh track to Bored In The USA with a sarcastic sort of comradery. True Affection bounces from the walls, taking the room back a decade or two as strobe lights pulse behind the band, catching Tillman’s silhouette as he writhes amidst them. He comes back to the fore for the final song, the title track from his stellar 2015 release, and it’s the perfect closer, grandiose in the large room, favoring the stripped back verses before rising for the chorus. The Tabernacle as a venue seems ideally suited for an artist like Tillman; it’s not necessarily modern, but neither is it dated, lavishly furnished and sonically perfect, everything sounding just right and looking just as good. Tillman thrives in the splendor of it all, soaking up the atmosphere and then sweating it out during a lively performance. As he leaves the stage at the end of …Honeybear he leaves behind an audience eager for more, which they get during an excellent encore which offers a little of everything. Tillman returns alone to deliver I Went To The Store One Day acoustically, and it’s sublime, before his band reenter the equation for a pulsating cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, which fully allows Tillman to connect with that primal side of his stage persona. It all ends with The Ideal Husband, the most raucous track on his last record, which sets the closest section of the crowd into a frenzy. It feels like a final bow, and Tillman certainly goes out swinging, throwing himself into that last song, and when the lights come up he is worshiped by those watching, those who’ve borne witness to his on stage antics. If there were a crown nearby, Tillman would be wearing it.
The fact of the matter, is that Tillman is the perfect solo artist – a charismatic, confident and gifted musician who knows how to put on a show. His live shows are a spectacle, slightly bizarre but also more-than-slightly brilliant. They’re finely tuned whilst still seeming erratic, and there’s not a moment at which the audience around me aren’t drinking it all in. Tillman is a great vocalist, and an equally great performer, on point for the duration, as are his accompanying band. It all adds to the image, the majesty of it all, and even his post-set dancing to Drake’s Legend seems like an extension of his own set, slotted in for one last hurrah before he has to reluctantly vacate the stage. Eventually he does, as the crowd pours out of The Tabernacle, smiles on every face and excited chatter ringing out in an effort to try and capture how good the gig actually was. Four days later I’m still trying to do the same myself.