Live music in a theater setting, a place where the smallest of coughs reverberate long after being muffled, and where the seated patrons strike an inevitable pose of relaxed detachment, is a challenging experience. This was true for the night of music and comedy billed as “Father John Misty: Solo” at the Somerville Theatre, but for very different reasons.
Tillman established this mood by entering the stage under a white rabbit head, then removing it with a muttered, “enough with the silly stuff,” only to erupt with a solid 90 minutes of the finest debauch-folk-rock west of Los Angeles.
I had written off Father John Misty as a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of Fleet Foxes’ effete success. His live shows featured a scruffy, shirtless Tillman, and suggested a bored folkster who needed to blow off a little steam before returning to the woods.
But then I actually listened to the music.
Behind the initial incongruity of listening to “dirty Fleet Foxes,” Tillman captures a powerful yearning to deal with our paradoxical impulse to feed the Id while holding on to some form of truth or beauty.
In an interview last year, Tillman acknowledged the challenge faced by fans who might find Father John Misty nothing more than a parody project. He argued that even the most earnest musician can actually be using “the affectations of an ‘alter-ego’ or a cartoon of an emotionally heightened persona.”
For Tillman, Father John Misty embodies his base impulses sacrificed in the service of Fleet Foxes.
In the main set’s closing song, “Everyman Needs a Companion,” Tillman/Misty admits, “I never liked the name Joshua; I got tired of J.” Therefore, Father John Misty.
The music spins images of a Hollywood apocalypse fueled by drugged relationships and religious rejection. While the show was a tame presentation, no huge rants or writhing on the stage, it was filled with delightfully awkward interjections and non-sequitur segues.
When two women in the front made an exit, Tillman whispered “some people can’t handle it. All the spittle and angst; it’s like a Shamu show. I’m a spiritual Shamu.”
Visual gags, like performing inside an iPhone cutout and over pouring wine into a glass without taking a sip, mark the show as witty vaudeville. With this Boston crowd, there were more claps on descriptions of malapropisms than “being a Dodger fan.” The laughs are an integral part of the tour, as Kate Berlant and her amorphous story fragments opened the show to great appreciation.
Yet, to capsulate Father John Misty as a comedy act is to miss the point.
In laughing, there is a reminder of the ironies that fill our lives: voting for Obama as justification for consumerism, or loving a person while hankering for one night of carnal bliss. It is in these moments of solipsistic honesty that Father John Misty delights.