At the Paradise on Tuesday night, Father John Misty cleared up some confusion: “There’s a misconception that this is an alternative ego. No. My alternative ego is Old Uncle Jerry. And the next song will be done by regular ol’ Josh Tillman.”
Father John Misty. Not a pseudonym, really, and more than persona, it’s through the Father John Misty blend of snide and endearing that Josh Tillman wrestles with the concept of an Americana folk savior. In his initial shows, a shirtless Tillman writhed and antagonized audiences who expected a little laugh before some Fleet Foxes material. Now, with two albums to his “name,” Tillman comfortably inhabits a character that defies expectation.
Considering the sold-out venue, Father John has clearly won converts. But, this is not a side project. This is the project. Where 2012’s Fear Fun unleashed sardonic sing-a-longs, the recent I Love You, Honeybear pushes Tillman into EDM territory at points. The tonal shift doesn’t completely abandon the past, it just asks for listeners to be re-confronted by Father John Misty. Yet, the new songs, perhaps being new, perhaps not as structured around choruses, didn’t have the same emotional pull. And what started as a packed house eventually thinned to leave elbow room for the faithful. Their loss.
For the show’s closing, Tillman wandered into the crowd. No stage dive, no jumping in a pit. It was a languid leaving of the stage, and Tillman was encircled by adoring fans who left reverential personal space for Father John. And it was the perfect setting for the reserved “Bored in the USA,” sung to folks who understand that this has always been about Tillman (and us) confronting ennui. The balm for him then is Father John Misty, providing songs that call attention to how love can transform. That was on display as Tillman closed the night with “Every Man Needs a Companion.” It describes a Platonic yearning that gets fulfilled in “I Went to the Store One Day,” a song unfortunately cut from the expected set list. Which was a shame, since the final track from Honeybear offers thematic conclusion: Tillman meets his wife, Emma, in a parking lot, and their encounter results in Tillman becoming “jealous, rail-thin. Prone to paranoia when I’m stoned.” That’s love, my friends.
One could enjoy the ironic backdrop, a neon sign imploring “no photography, and Tillman’s riotous banter, (“I hope someone is leaving these shows feeling like they’ve been trapped on a bus with an pervert”) but still miss the real Father John Misty. Anyone who left early sure did. Tillman for his part is a guy who’s tired of explaining everything, but keeps forcing you to find an explanation, noting as he did before the end of the night: “Positive affirmation gets very little feedback.”
Full photo set!