After a casual glance over the reviews FJM is getting across the web, one thing’s clear: singer Josh Tillman is hot. We get it, teenage girls, no need to crygasm! OMG, SO DREAMY! HE’S A SEXUAL PANDALMATION!!! Don’t believe me? Do some Google sleuthing of your own; we’ll wait for you.
I know, right? I mean, seriously! E-scream after e-scream about Josh’s good looks and swiveling hips. To be fair, J. Tillman is indeed a fit bloke, but somehow this all seems to be missing the point. Beyond Tillman’s boyish charms there is lyrical substance, a narrative voice that is intensely compelling. On my first Misty’s single “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, I found myself not only wrapped up in Tillman’s dark, often humorous prose, but that my mind had begun wandering through a cobalt forest, guided by the gentlemanly arm extended to me by Tillman’s voice. The song actually took me someplace other than the grey couch upon which I was perched, which impressed me, jaded as I am. Also, Aubrey Plaza is hot, which helps. Sue me. (Don’t.)
Backing up the verdant poetry is a solid musical foundation. Deeply rooted in ’50s and ’60s Country/Rock, Father John Misty succeeds in bringing a bespectacled smirk to these influences. Of course, it’s all the rage for indie musicians to curtly borrow the twang and swagger of Southern music, but even a cursory listen will dispel the myth that FJM is guilty of this sin as Tillman obviously has a deep love of his source material. While the sound is updated it is in earnest, as there is a reverence and respect that flows through the release that’s so often missing from those of some of his contemporaries. One is reminded of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings when taking in this album, with a dose of George Harrison thrown in the mix. This is especially evident once you actually get the chance to take in the down home country revival/hootenanny that is Father John Misty’s live show.
Touring in support of FJM’s debut album Fear Fun–Tillman has numerous self-titled releases under his belt–one finds this young band hungry and strong, already well honed and at the top of its musical game. I can’t imagine Tillman picking a better group of musicians, that rare combination of L.A. style and old Nashville chops.
To be clear, the show was great. Great vibe, great playing, great sound–just a stellar performance. What was so surprising about the show was how much FJM’s sound had expanded since the release of the record. When I attend a show, I wholeheartedly hope the band sounds better live than they do on the record. Where this album is more laid back and dreamy, Misty in the flesh was uproarious, raucous, and charismatic. The band not only sounds better live, but comes right out of the gate with more focused versions of the songs on the album, making it totally worth the drive from Seattle to Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo. With a tight-but-loose rhythm section working hard to anchor the songs, various keyboard textures and two guitarists creating the rest of the sound scape, Tillman’s vocals are perfectly framed in the mix.
The band opened with “Fun Times in Babylon”, a song that glimmers with the first rays of sunlight leaking through the window on a Saturday morning or the inaugural miles of a days-long road trip. The boys just kept ramping up the intensity after that, with a set list that was made up of pure magic. Though there’s only one record, the band made their way through each song in a way that made things far more exciting than just a rehashing of tunes. I was struck by how our favorite tracks off the record were well represented in concert, with highlights being the big single “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” with its kick-back cool verses and explosive breakdown section, and “I’m Writing a Novel”, a souped-up, guitar lick laden barn burner of a country/rock tune that drives hard from start to finish. And the crescendo-laden encore blend of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” with Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” was a brilliant closer in the spirit of an old fashioned drunken sing-a-long that got the whole house moving. Felt like New Year’s Eve.
Though Josh’s wit and humor make the show memorable, I have to admit that the most striking part of the show for me was Benji Lysaght (lead guitar) who was the icing on the cake, musically speaking. And I don’t just mean he was sugary frosting thrown carelessly on top; Benji’s precise bends and strident lead work was also held that velvety confection together, like a layer of chocolate mousse in the middle, simultaneously sweet and salty. He could also be strawberry or cherry filling, if you’re that kind. I’m done with this metaphor.
Taking in the performance that night, Benji (formerly of Ambulance LTD and Brandon Flowers’ solo record Flamingo) seems perfectly poised to become a guitar hero in his own right. Never over playing, Benji brought equal parts gristle and snarl to the table. I thought I was prepared for the concert having listened to the record beforehand, but I was honestly blown away by his deft execution of pedal steel licks, behind-the-nut bends, and fast-paced country runs. Dude knows his stuff. And his tone? Fantastic. Utilizing a host of pedals–including a silver box Klon Centaur and an Earthquaker Devices Rainbow Machine–and an older Tone King Meteor powered by a quartet of 6V6s, Benji culled some breath taking sounds out of his choice vintage guitars. He employed a 1951 two-pickup Fender Esquire, a quirky-cool late 50’s Guyatone LG-60 and a vintage Epiphone 12-string.
This band does a great job of melding the bravado of L.A. rock ‘n roll and the take-no-prisoners attitude of vintage country music. Add to it Tillman’s dark sarcasm and serious way of not taking himself too seriously, and you’ve got quite an evening on your hands. So, if you’re at all unfamiliar with Father John Misty’s music, or if you have the chance to catch them in concert, just do it; this band is a party you’ll want to attend.
-Michael James Adams