Live Review: Father John Misty @ The Roundhouse, London
“I never liked the name Joshua”, Father John Misty, reveals to the audience, “I got tired of J”. From the Rockville born Joshua Tillman to Fleet Foxes drummer and finally to his current incarnation, Reinvention was the theme this evening. Rarely speaking onstage, the lyrics do the work instead, crafting a character that seems to be continuously wrestling with a drug-induced existential crisis, who is brashly unsure of his own identity, choosing to masquerade as an arrogant prick. Coming off of his consciously horrendous interview on Radio 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie last week, here heavily bearded Tillman stands, playing three nights at London’s Roundhouse.
Adopting a distinctive style of lyricism; Dylan-esque but with a slick yet sweet, honey-dripping tone, Tillman’s voice transcends album to live performance faultlessly. The two albums released to date express a jaded and cynical approach to love, the latest (released in 2015) a long love letter to his wife Emma. He bitingly plays upon an American dream of love and loss, simultaneously disgusted at and embracing the commercialisation of emotion. “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity?” he sings musingly. Biting satire, certainly. The selection of merchandise was excellent, may I add.
His slim frame didn’t rest while onstage and at points it appears as though he is having a religious experience, sinking to his knees with arms outstretched as though being faith-healed. He is certainly a high energy individual, performing death drops with the brazen confidence seen with drag queens lip-synching, or a burlesque artist teasing the audience as she dances. However, all this is with a boozy, unrestrained quality, like the whole performance has been lifted out of a dive-bar and dipped in liquor. In other moments, adrenaline on stage running high, he seems to channel the energy of The Who circa 1968, ready to smash his guitar on stage. This provides an unexpected (but welcomed) tension between the frequent gentle guitar strumming that his two albums have thus far provided. Tensions are familiar for Tillman, the stage name taken creating a deliberately unpleasant dichotomy between the excesses of drugs, women and consumerism that he sings about, and the piousness a religious figure should maintain. It’s ironic, obviously.
The performance was a tour through several different musical personas. Tillman plays the part of the lovable rogue, the southern preacher crying for redemption and of course (when you starred in your own coming of age movie) the enigmatic arsehole that you dated at sixteen. It is undoubtedly hackneyed to reference Shakespeare’s quote “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”, but the characterisation of Father John Misty in many ways is just a rehashing of the alternative American man that we have seen time and time again. What makes Tillman different is that he knows and recognises this. “Let’s just call this what it is” he croons to the audience, and on cue releases the confetti cannon, during ‘Now I’m Learning to Love the War’. It’s a nod and a wink to the pretence that a concert brings, the acknowledgement of going through the motions of what one would expect in a concert piece. With a coquettish skip and shimmy, you feels as though you are in on the joke with him.
My only criticism was the less-than-successful interjection of a drum-heavy, generic ‘indie’ flailing of a piece, played concert-band style where you could just of easily have been in the audience for the X-factor. Within this, Tillman’s style and voice was lost somewhat, jarring with the story the concert seemed to be telling. However, I suppose this could be the next iteration of FJM’s transposition through the artistic canon; first rock ’n’ roll, next the 1975...
Just before his encore he faux-ends in a flourish, diving into the audience. The loose and free move of unrestraint, but also no doubt the end result of impeccable rehearsal to achieve as much. He plays the rough vagabond well, and deliberately. Whoever Father John Misty is trying to be, the audience can see right through it, but I guess maybe that’s the point.
I Love You, Honeybear is available to download from iTunes now.