Father John Misty – Lincoln Hall – 10/30/2012
Review by Brandon Worth
“I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go.” That’s how Josh Tillman describes the path that led him to form Father John Misty, the band he brought to Lincoln Hall Tuesday night.
Changes in latitude and altered state of mind may help explain the transformation that Tillman has completed in the past couple of years. The Josh Tillman who showed up at Lincoln Hall in the rock robes of Father John Misty was far from the Tillman who played the Empty Bottle back in the summer of 2010. That former incarnation whispered through a short set of quiet, confessional acoustic folk before making an early exit, clearly irritated at competing with the roar of a largely inattentive crowd. But the Misty version of Tillman who led his loose, five-piece band through a rollicking set of folk-rock at Lincoln Hall had the full attention of the capacity crowd.
Grooving guitar-less at center stage like a Mick Jagger channeling Roy Orbison in slow motion, Tillman crooned kaleidoscopic tales of loneliness and longing, death and destruction, and frantic fits of madness. Yet he somehow managed to keep the vibe upbeat, lightening the dark and the heavy with humor and sarcastic irreverence. Goofy between-song banter suggested the audience shouldn’t take anything he sang too seriously. And a terrific band that switched easily between country-fried Burrito Brothers twang and bluesy folk-rock reminiscent of early electric Dylan ensured the set never got bogged down in the over-seriousness that can drag down a lot of folk-rock shows.
Of course, Father John Misty also marks a departure from Josh Tillman’s best known past persona as the drummer and backing vocalist for indie-folk darlings Fleet Foxes. If the Foxes’ flannel-draped, harmony-heavy sound makes them the quintessential band of the foggy Northwest, Father John Misty could be crowned the musical kings of Southern California. In fact, most of Misty’s Fear Fun album was written when Tillman fled Seattle for L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, and the classic Canyon sound pervaded in the Lincoln Hall set.
But the Los Angeles of Father John Misty isn’t the land of constant sunshine, glitz and glamour. Tunes like “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “I’m Writing a Novel” touched on a strangely surreal Hollywood “full of people pretending that they don’t see the actress and the actress wishing that they could.” And on “Tee Pees 1-12,” Tillman told a tale that suggested a little too much California dreaming may be harmful to your health, singing, “If I make it out alive from Hollywood and Vine I’ll build a cabin in the Northwest.”
Whether he makes his home in sunny SoCal or the rain-soaked Northwest, the enthusiastic congregation that heard Father John Misty Tuesday night will be hoping Tillman comes back to Chicago with another sermon soon.