It’s no secret that singer and songwriter Josh Tillman, as leader of Father John Misty, is a controversial figure – musically eccentric and defiantly outspoken, he inspires ire as often as devotion. But Tillman (who last appeared on our stage in 2013 as drummer for Fleet Foxes) earns attention for a better reason: the quality of the songs found on his three albums to date, including this year’s massively acclaimed Pure Comedy. Tillman’s work has earned him a loyal and ever-growing following, who turned in out in force for one of the most distinctive shows in our history.
Backed by a seven-piece band and a sixteen-person strong mini-orchestra of Austin players, Tillman opened the show with the lush pop of Pure Comedy’s title track, a satirical take on modern life that ends with the plea “each other’s all we got.” The ensemble followed with “Total Entertainment Forever Play,” a more straightforward folk rocker, before going back to the orchestration for the dramatic anthem “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” which Tillman punctuated with wild arm swings, like a mad conductor. He picked his guitar back up to lead the band in the pretty but pointed “Ballad of the Dying Man,” his impassioned wail scaling the heights built by the string section behind him.
Following four straight tracks from Pure Comedy, Tillman revisited his second LP I Love You, Honeybear with the irony-soaked “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” a sly parody of 70s sensitive balladry that namechecked Willie Nelson to comic effect and produced the biggest audience hosannahs yet. A Latin feel permeated the horn section during “Chateau Lobby #4,” which again earned a huge audience response. Returning to Pure Comedy, Tillman cleared away the clouds with the relatively subtle “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay,” which focused on piano, sedate strings and his keening croon. The full force of the ensemble returned for the lush “A Bigger Paper Bag,” before really bearing down on the powerful “Birdie.” Most of the band then left the stage, leaving Tillman alone with the string section for the 13-minute emotional travelogue “Leaving LA.” “This is the only TV show you could get away with doing that song on,” he quipped.
The rest of the orchestra retook the stage, but the mood stayed placid with “So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain,” a clear audience fave. FJM ended the main set with the title track to I Love You, Honeybear, on which Tillman pulled out all the stops as a loverman crooner, venturing out into the audience to dispense hugs and lead the crowd in a chorus of “oh’s.” With that titanic end, Father John Misty quit the stage. But Tillman returned with the strings and pianist Jon Titterington for “Holy Shit,” a paean to change far more thoughtful and melodic than its profane title might lead one to believe. The rest of the ensemble quietly took the stage behind them and crashed into a bit of cacophonous bombast, clearing the sinuses before returning to a full band version of the melody as previously stated. One more crowd chorus of “oh’s” and it was over, everyone satiated. It was a great end to a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it arrives early next year as part of our Season 43 on your local PBS station.