Channeling the spirits of some of music’s finest, Father John Misty took to the Colston Hall stage last night like a true country star; coiffured, groomed and polished.
I’ve heard him described as “Jim Morrison’s head on Jarvis Cocker’s body” which paints a pretty accurate picture but, you can’t help but notice Springsteen’s knee-sliding, Iggy’s self-loathing and – dare I say it? – even Mick Jagger’s swagger.
There was a fair amount of glitz and glamour that punctured his set. Personally, I need a bit of grit so I like my country alt- and I like it with soul. Although these genres were present, it was the other kind of country that consistently came to the fore. And his cocksure, lothario avatar seemed very comfortable with this.
But splicing country genres is not the only thing this former-Fleet Fox does well. In terms of the sheer wealth of material, you get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to a Josh Tillman set. On stage for a lengthy 90 minutes, he performed almost every song available to him from his Father John Misty canon, and there was little in the way of onstage banter.
He kicked off with tracks from 2012’s Fear Fun, as a rapturously received Every Man Needs a Companion swiftly shifted to Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings. Backlit and boldly silhouetted, his country star mixed with dustbowl chic was hypnotizing. His guitar disappeared for When You’re Smiling and Astride Me and the vulnerability that makes up part of 2015’s I Love you, Honeybear’s charm was very much on display, as was his faultless blue-eyed soul vocal.
There was more from Fear Fun with Only Son of the Ladiesman and Tee Pees 1-12: the latter ensuring sexy Josh was out to play with his Nashville/boogaloo fusion. But it’s with material from his second FJM album that he seemed most comfortable, his body language giving way to a more natural reaction to the music, the connection between physical and lyrical flowing more freely, more easily. Nothing Ever Happens at the Goddam Thirsty Crow showcased his dark, sensual voice as did his renditions of Funtimes in Babylon, Nancy From Now On and Chateau Lobby No. 4 (in C for Two Virgins).
Father John Misty delivered a total of 19 songs, each one performed with voom and verve, but at times it felt as if there was a certain amount of cynical showmanship, rather than something that flowed honestly and from the heart. I was never completely convinced that he connected with the audience. But then again, perhaps that’s what you lose when your meteoric rise to fame means that one night you’re playing to 400 fans at Thekla and just over a year later you’re performing in front of 2000 people at Colston Hall. And this fact didn’t go unnoticed by Mr Tillman who remarked that this was the first time he’d “played on dry land in Bristol”. And what a different experience it must have been for him.
Other stand-out tracks were Bored in the USA, True Affection and Holy Shit, the third an indicator of just how good a guitarist and vocalist he is. For those interested in the next FJM release, in a recent NME interview, Josh Tillman said “‘Bored in the USA’ and ‘Holy Shit’, those two are good indicators of where I’m going. And then the album after that is just…pure vodka. Just The Vodka Album”.
I Love You, Honeybear was his song of the night, his song of truth. It was delivered beautifully and with integrity. The encore consisted of I Went to the Store One Day, a blinding cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer and the finale, Ideal Husband.
Father John Misty is undeniably a great showman, a bon vivant, a libertine. And he’s never better than when his nihilism and demons are on display for all to see; irredeemable, unwashable.
Those very demons worked over Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie last week when he made an appearance on their BBC Radio 6 Music show. In an interview that started off awkwardly and quickly derailed completely:
Radcliffe: I wondered if the Father John thing was in any way related to your Christian upbringing…You know, whether it was some kind of ridicule of the preacher kind of role.
Father John Misty: …People ask me this question a lot, but they keep going and make the question boring, when it could be something I could talk about at great length, and actually reveal a lot more about who I am than just asking me where the name comes from…
Maconie: You’re saying it’s a reductive kind of question.
FJM: Can I just finish my thought please?
Maconie: By all means. Really.
FJM: I’m making you quite flustered.
Maconie: No, you’re not making me flustered in the slightest. You’re sort of exasperating me, and that’s two different things.
FJM: There’s nothing more flustering you can say to someone than “I’m making you flustered.”
Maconie: Oh my gosh. Well, I bow to your superior knowledge.
FJM: Oh God, c’mon man.
(Witness the whole car crash here from 01:35:45.)
That’s the kind of intensity I had been hoping for from his stage performance.
But I couldn’t have been the only person in the audience that had a sense there was more alter-ego than ego on stage last night. And to say it left me feeling a little cheated would be too strong, but to say I felt a little short-changed would be true.