Report: Father John Misty receive "exactly what we deserve"

Father John Misty
Hi-Fi Bar, Melbourne
Sunday 17th February 2013

By Andrew Crook

Joshua Tillman has come a long way from his sad-man-with-an-acoustic-guitar misery of his mid-2000s J Tillman guise – a set of heartfelt tunes destined to be heard forever in the bedrooms of bereft twenty-something men and nowhere else.

The country/vaudeville/blues rock hybrid of Father John Misty is a coming out party of sorts, the 31-year-old Tillman revelling in the role of showman -- for the most part sans instrument – and writhing against his former self as the meds wear off and crisp mountain harmonies crash around him.

Opening with the title track of 2012 LP Fear Fun -- ‘Fun Times in Babylon’ – it was clear that with a stacked-out six-strong band (including keys and possibly explaining the inflated ticket price) and a heaving Hi-Fi, the mood was going to be raucous, the fans having had these top-shelf tunes on repeat for months now.  

Tillman has a knack for deadpan stage observations and, battling decongestion pills after a “30 hour” flight, it was time to wax lyrical about his “new pony hair shoes”, American hubris and vague pleas for Australian women to buy him beer after the show. At one point he hilariously got everyone to groan en masse to cut through the adulation.

Single ‘Nancy from Now On’, gentle on record, was filled out by an almost disco chug and harmonies from hotpants-wearing bassist Jeff Ramuno, giving Tillman ample opportunity to gyrate and fake faint in a raunchy dalliance with the mic stand.

There were times when the tunes threatened to devolve into honkytonk bar band sludge but the quality of the songwriting on Fear Fun don’t really allow it, a haunted couple of ‘whoas’ or ‘ohs’ hiding just round the corner. Another album and there’s a chance FJM – if they wanted to – could find themselves in My Morning Jacket stadium territory.

The proto-enviro ballad ‘Now I’m Learning to Love the War’ oozed with the sickness of LA overconsumption ("try not to think about / the truly staggering amount of oil / it takes to make a record"), the concern with the global, rather than the personal. Tillman is a genre-hopping everyman – Damian Jurado championed him and, yeah, he once drummed in Fleet Foxes -- but these songs are grounded in the concreted back blocks of West Hollywood, a place where noxious celebrities mingle among desperate dwellers of a first world failed state. 

Before sauntering off the band threw down what will probably still stand in December as a 2013 live highlight – an epic version of ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ in brain fried extended wig out clip mode (feat Aubrey Plaza), the chugging distortion spiralling apart into white noise chaos before the band somehow managed pull it back into the ‘someone’s gotta help me dig’ groove. Impressive.

All six white dudes returned for a new song, the fireworks-free straight-ahead ballad ‘I Still Love You, Honey Bear’ and ended it with chugging cover of Canned Heat’s ‘On The Road Again’. "Being Americans", Tillman explained facetiously, the rabid reception was "exactly what we deserve". But on Sunday night’s evidence it was probably warranted.

Andrew Crook

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