By: Chiara DiAngelo (@chiarabella) –
Running an hour behind schedule, when Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, took the stage – finally – he thanked everyone for their patience. Explaining that the band had left Lollapalooza in Chicago later than expected, most of the audience had likely arrived to the venue before them. Dressed in a suit to make up for it, all was soon forgiven once he launched into the sweet croons of “Funtimes in Babylon”. Making his folk songs larger than life, the free-spirited singer owned the stage and the microphone – right down to the mic stand, which was often spun around or lifted above his head. His signature hip shaking and gyrating rarely let up for the hour he was on stage. While he took up his guitar by fourth song, “I’m Writing A Novel”, Tillman proceeded to be no less animated.
From his attempt to reach out and touch a girl’s hand in the front row “You’re so far away!” to his comments that the band is actually only popular in Toronto – they have to bus in convicts in every other stop – Tillman was hilarious. A true showman, his on-stage theatrics were just nearly overdone at times. Also a ladies’ man, he seemed to be constantly barraged with marriage proposals and calls to take his clothes off. It was actually uncomfortable and hindering to the set’s progression at times.
With song requests also being shouted out from the men in attendance any time there was a pause between songs, there eventually came the inevitable shout for “Free Bird”. Tillman’s bitingly sarcastic and cynical nature truly emerged, as he commented “one day I’m going to fuck with an audience and give them a perfect verbatim rendition of “Free Bird”. Which the band then actually did while Tillman sat on the edge of the stage and just chuckled, “I just realized that Free Bird is actually the shit!” Attempting to move on, certain hecklers couldn’t give up on the joke that was now way past its prime, shouting out for the song again. Tillman, blatantly frustrated requested that the audience boo him loudly before asking the guy to “actually just shut the fuck up”.
After the heartfelt “Everyman Needs a Companion”, their set ended with the rocking “Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings”. The guitars were off the charts, the sound nearly overtook the soundsystem at times until the combustible red backlit inferno went dark and the lights cut out, signaling it was time for the band to exit the stage.
After a lengthy reprieve, Tillman returned to the stage, bottle of alcohol and cigarette in hand. Picking up his guitar, he professed that over the course of 1.5 years of touring he felt like he was losing the personal connection to his songs, giving them away to a different audience every night. Feeling alienated from his own songs, he wanted people to know that the cynicism and his overall act is not a schtick – it’s him, it’s all from his heart. Conversations fluttering around the crowd, the audience took it upon themselves to shush the talkers for Tillman to continue. Unfortunately at this point, one too many heckling comments sent him over the edge. Now officially far past his breaking point, he smashed his guitar and stormed off the stage.
Unsure what to make of this surreal experience, the audience shared a look of collective dumbfoundedness, until the security guards began ushering people out and the house lights came back on. We had to accept that he wasn’t coming back and leave into the night with a sour taste in our mouths – and a sad way to bring an end to the band’s year and a half of touring. It’s a shame that this departure will likely overtake people’s memories of what was otherwise an incredible performance.
Held up at the border, the openers, Minneapolis-based quartet Night Moves, took the stage 45 minutes late. Starting with “Country Queen”, from 2012’s Colored Emotions, their spacey electric soul was fueled by fuzzy vocals and hazy guitars, with the drums dominating their sound. The drummer also pumped out synthy beats from the laptop beside his kit. The four-piece weren’t the most dynamic of performers but songs like “Our Friends” were generally fun and catchy enough to carry their set.
Unfortunately, midway through their set, vocalist John Pelant’s deeper twangy voice transitioned into a falsetto and the remaining songs crossed the threshold over into a style that more than slightly resembled bad 80’s lounge music. Already antsy for the headliner, the crowd’s attention began to dwindle during the extended instrumentals that inevitably ensued. Their set nearing the 45-minute mark with “Headlights”, before they completely overstayed their welcome, they finished with the groovy title track “Colored Emotions” and said good night.
Father John Misty
First, let me predicate my comments on the show on the fact that I’d only scantily listened to the band’s material prior to attending. So I wasn’t familiar to any respectable depth with the material or the personalities involved. Here are my extensive thoughts on it:
First, the sounds was terrible. I don’t know if it was the acoustics of the venue, the sounds the bands created from the stage or a poor sound man. I suspect none of these three were firing on all cylinders. It was especially bad for the opening act – all you could hear was the booming kick drum. Thankfully it improved somewhat for FJM, but it lacked both the musical clarity and most opportunities to understand what Tillman was singing. Granted, we don’t need to be able to hear and analyze every lyric, but given that this band (of which I’d only heard scant snippets of before attending this show) is purported to offer deeper social commentary on the human condition than most others, the sound overtook almost all opportunity for this aspect of the music to be an element of the show, leaving us hoping the tunes would be as catchy as Freebird (or any other music for the masses of your choice). Backing vocals were especially poorly mixed such that they were barely audible – especially the mic of the bassist. The key-player’s mic did come through a little better, but still too low leaving me craving a voice other than Tillman’s to come to the fore to provide some partial relief.
Second, the band appears to be quite talented and they produced a style that, while no means musically revolutionary, was fairly catchy in a psychadelicish-country kind of way. This is not a style that I’d want to overexposure on but the crowd seemed to know what to expect and the band delivered tightly. The guitar player on stage right seemed especially talented and was one of the few band members I hoped would have engaged the audience more. The bass player’s enthusiastic dancing was rather uncharismatic and slightly embarrassing to watch, but hey ho, this is of minor relevance. I did find, however, that there were too many instances where both guitarists seemed to be playing exactly the same thing which, I grant, can ‘thicken’ the sound a bit, but really is a waste of talent and opportunity. It’s redundant, and yet another reason why bands don’t usually feature two drummers.
Third, Tillman plays the part of an angry and extremely arrogant frontman. In appearance he bore likeness to a poor-man’s Jim Morrison. In his dance moves he was a bit camp and uncomfortable to watch. He swung the mic stand around at various times, and thankfully there wasn’t more room for him to swing it around more. He was one of ‘those’ singers that I found forced himself on us like a hollywood trailor rather than won us over with any charismatic magnetism. The crowd seemed to love it though which made me briefly share in his cynicism. But I suppose this is show-business apparently directed to an early-to-mid-twenties audience, so if the music is good then perhaps I can forgive the performance thrust upon us like an overcooked roast. Next came the between song jokes. Part of the audience laughed inbetween their ‘woo-ing’ (you know the inescapable concert audience high-pitched “WOOOOO”), but it was the kind of laughter that you would offer to a potential sexual partner who you really didn’t find funny at all but wanted to make them feel you did. I could sense a split in the audience coming on. Tillman seemed to have part of the crowd in the palm of his hand, while another portion like me seemed increasingly turned off.
Tillman’s singing was a bit of an anomaly. He’s definitely got the lungs and voice control bequeathed to both a natural born singer and someone who’s worked hard to develop his voice. But so did Whitney Houston, and any other top 40 singer that can shatter glass. While Tillman’s voice thankfully didn’t do that, it was equally one that I wouldn’t want to listen to for any duration. In his favor though and once again; the audience knew what to expect in this regard and he certainly didn’t let them down. It just wasn’t the style of vocals that I’m partial to (and I fully realize that I’m in a small minority). I glanced at my watch at just shy of 11pm (a sign that I’m hoping the show will end soon), roughly half way through their set.
There was a brief glimmer of hope for the band/Tillman when the music took a significant veer to the left, when they delivered a song seemingly about the abundant uses of oil to make, package and ship vinyl records around the world (at least from what I could make out of the lyrics). Suddenly the actual lyrics could be mostly heard, and although obviously ironic, seemed to be somewhat thoughtful. I found myself leaning closer to better hear and absorb the message that Tillman was attempting to deliver. I found myself briefly interested. Unfortunately it didn’t last long. Within a short time Tillman veered us in the opposite direction into the Freebird debacle.
The joke wasn’t even funny to begin with, but both Tillman and a portion of the audience milked it incessantly. The basis of the joke? From what I can guess as to Tillman’s thinking – he doesn’t like Freebird, he thinks it sucks (I’m not much of a fan of it either), except possibly the ending which he seems to have a little bit of respect for. So there he is taunting the audience with a promise (or threat) to have the band play it. He doesn’t want to play it and he’s mocking the audience for wanting to hear it. Cue more “WOOOOOs” from the audience some of whom were like a rather loose and unorganized bunch out of a Pink Floyd The Wall audience chanting “hammer, hammer, hammer…”. But the audience unsuprisingly follows his lead, so his band cynically delivers a small portion of Freebird (and quite poorly too). It doesn’t end there. His mocking of the audience increases, threating to have ejected anyone that calls for Freebird again. By this time, it appears that some of the audience have turned on him, and neither he nor they are letting up. More shouts for Freebird, and although I’m long tired of hearing either him or them say “Freebird” yet another time, this suddenly became the most interesting part of the show. Tillman seemed like a total moron in the process of mocking morons. He even claimed (possibly sarcastically, who knows?) that when he made the (unfunny) joke it was inspiration, while for the audience to do likewise was stupidity. I found myself cynically debating in my own thoughts which side I wanted to lose more badly. The venue completely split. He was mocking part of the audience, some of them were mocking him, others were completely confused, and for a few minutes there was some suspense!
Somehow that blew over – I don’t remember how nor do I really care. But the next moment of excitement came fairly quickly on its heels. Tillman walked out to do an encore, but being the last show of the circuit, proceeded to chide the audience in the same way that a neglectful relative or friend would be chided. As mentioned by the reviewer above, he complained that having played the songs so many times (and obviously to audiences he has little respect for) he’s lost a connection to his material and has thus become alienated from his own creations. He’s given it all to us, he claimed, and has little left for himself. While I know the feeling he speaks of, I couldn’t help wishing I could tell him to shut up and take back whatever he’s purpotedly given to me. While there might be some ideas worth hearing in his music that I haven’t yet heard, I just don’t want it that badly at the cost of enduring this walking attitude problem and wannabe pop-rock diva. The audience didn’t seem to care a hole lot either. My guess is that despite his efforts he simply hasn’t raised nearly enough social capital amongst his audience to make such awkward demands, let alone make them so petulantly, all the while being insulting. My guestimation of the problem was that Tillman underestimated too much of his audience and over-estimated himself.
After his speech, he picked up his guitar which didn’t seem to be working (or the crowd wasn’t working in the way he wanted it to, or whatever) and he muttered to himself something inaudible. And then he threw down his guitar (probably putting at least a big chip in it if not breaking it completely), and stormed off.
It was a very odd concert, and despite the Jerry Springer-est entertainment at the end, I was really glad it was over. I suspect he’s really glad his tour is over, as if he were to have too many nights like that I can unfortunately see the weight of his unsatisfied ego being an elephant of a burden on those around him. Do he and the band have some talent? Undoubtedly, but there wasn’t enough of anything good on display to make me want to follow up and give his/their material any more time to listen.
Thanks for this.
I think that this is the longest comment that we’ve ever had.
Got more out of this comment than the actual review.
Thanks. That makes us feel good about ourselves.
I’m not a FJM superfan but i like his songs. The crowd at that show was just awful. Shouting non stop from beginning to end. As someone who was standing near a drunk woman incessantly yelling things at him i certainly felt like hurling something. It definitely seemed like some Dudes in the crowd were annoyed by his shtick. I’ve seen him before and that is what he does. I don’t get why it would be annoying but so be it. It sounded fine from where i was standing. Frankly I was completely fine with his playful but direct heckling of the shouters in the crowd. I couldn’t believe it at the end when he was trying to take a minute to make some heartfelt connection with his fans that the Dudes couldn’t shut up for 2 minutes. A guy in my vicinity yelled “play some music” in the middle of his talk. He looked very proud of himself. I didn’t take any offense to his talk of “losing connection” with the songs after so much touring. I think he made a mistake in trying to connect with a crowd that was being overrun by drunken fools.
Nobody has to love his music or his show but everyone should not be a dick.
Yes! This is exactly how I saw it. From where I was standing the audience hadn’t turned on Tillman at all–not like Concergoer suggested above. There were a few pockets of extraordinarily drunk buffoons who just would not quit heckling him. This is especially true of his ‘encore.’
That was the most incredibly honest and raw proclamation of feeling that I’ve ever seen in that public a forum. It didn’t come across to me as diva posturing. It was more about the fact that he’d lost a connection to both the material and seemingly to the people around him. That’s a very big hallmark of depression by the way — a serious heath condition and not an example of him being Jim Morrison wannabe. Also, with some quick googling I found out the reason he made the move to California and subsequently recorded this album was because he had been suffering from a major episode of depression — surprise, surprise. It’s a bit of a generalization to say that the audience didn’t care a whole lot — the people surrounding me did care and were actively trying to shush the hecklers. Sadly, their idiotic voices were loud and clear — the main ones were further calls of Freebird, the woman who kept creepily screaming “take off your clothes” and the real prizewinner — some asshole screaming “shut up and play” over and over. Also, after he stormed off the stage the people around me started yelling thanks for ruining the show assholes. That wasn’t directed at the band either, it was directed solely at those select members of the audience hellbent on derailing what was unfolding.
Now, I’m writing this as a person who walked into this show totally blind — I had never listened to Father John Misty before and I loved every minute of his performance. I suspected that I would based on the recommendation of my friends. It was really jarring and actually disturbing to have such a great night but to have it end on such a truly embarrassing, sad and angering note. Interestingly, a lot of the people in my section of the Music Hall walked out wearing similar expressions. Ones of embarrassment and sadness. I didn’t see anyone laughing or making comments dismissing what had just happened. In fact I overheard several people say that they felt almost nauseous.
Overall: A fantastic show marred by idiots. Yes, the lack of time for a genuine sound check definitely impacted the sound. Though, it wasn’t the worst that I’ve ever heard at a show in Toronto before.
Also, sorry Jeremy, mainly my target for this comment was Concertgoer but it wouldn’t let me post a direct response to that thread.
I think that we can all agree that the idiocy of the few audience members who constantly heckled throughout the show was disrespectful but just to play devil’s advocate, since he is a professional touring musician, shouldn’t FJM have just sucked it up and performed the encore?
Far worse has happened by audience members that was directed at the band but really, if FJM wanted people to take him seriously, he would have finished his set.
I would think that even a professional musican has their limits. Considering this was his 2nd to last date on a tour lasting more than a year and a half I would say not playing an encore would hardly be called not finishing a set. Considering you’re writing a concert review I hoped that you’d understand the concept of an encore — you know, that part of the show where the performer rewards a warm crowd reception with a few extra tunes.
And yes, I have been to shows where far worse have happened. Once at an outdoor concert I saw a rock come flying from the crowd and smash into the lead singers face. The band then jumped off the stage and attempted to beat the idiots to a pulp. Luckily the cops got to the rock flingers first. The show was over 3 songs in. Everyone has a worse crowd story. My comments were pertaining to this particular show — not all shows through history.
Also, nothing good has ever come from a discussion started with ‘let me play devil’s advocate.’ That’s a patronizing and really novice turn of phrase used by writers who can’t bother to formulate an actual argument.
i just saw this while trying to buy my ticket for the show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre
i saw the band play in Chicago for Lolla, having never heard any of their material prior to that. The band sounded amazing in Chicago and it’s sad to read about the hecklers. Show some class!