Father John Misty @ Rhythm Room
"I want to do what a stripper does, and in another way do what a carnival barker does, or a shaman, some kind of Pentecostal preacher," Josh Tillman, the singer/songwriter known by his alter ego Father John Misty, said when we spoke in advance of his show at Rhythm Room Wednesday night. "Those are all more interesting archetypes than a guitarist to me."
You could add a couple other vocations to that list: comedian, lunatic, "hobo rambler." Tillman's a swaggering, forceful live performer, and the asides, between song banter, and ad-libbing within the songs all point to the same blackened wit that makes Fear Fun, which was nearly performed in its entirety last night, one of the best records of the year.
Tillman started the night off drumming for Jeffertitti's Nile, the Los Angeles-based psych rock band that happens to back him up during Misty sets. It was a heavier than a lot of attendees must have been ready for -- their glazed and puzzled looks were fun. It was great to see Tillman really crash around on the kit, and the band's choogling organ and desert-baked guitars were a nice way to start things off.
La Sera put in a solid set as well, featuring Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls. I always loved Vivian Girls' records, but her latest, Sees The Light, is her boldest step forward. Alternating between Pixies-style sidewise pop and Go-Betweens jangle, Goodman's voice coursed under waves of reverb (she asked the sound guy for plenty, and it achieved the desired result).
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Tillman got into the "shaman/preacher/stripper" vibe right away; he joked about fearing Arizona law enforcement, but thankfully remarked that the band didn't get "the littlest bit arrested" on the drive from Los Angeles.
The rest of the time, he tossed out existential comments about burger wrappers, inevitable unhappiness, and the "dry heat." Tillman clearly relishes having fun, and the hip-shaking swagger fits the characters in his songs, the deceased womanizer in "Only Son of the Ladiesman" and the shambling novelist of "I'm Writing a Novel."
The band kept up their end of the deal, too. The stripped-down instrumentation never faltered to capture the sonic heart of Fear Fun, though its pared-down presentation got closer to a really wonderful bar band as opposed to the chamber-pop moments exhibited on wax. It worked. "Misty's Nightmares 1&2" and "Well, You Can Do It Without Me" sounded like rattling roadhouse rock.
As the band finished, with the "single" "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings," Tillman made a joke about the "liturgy" of leaving the stage and returning for an inevitable encore. Then he dismissed it all as a lie, and the band finished up with a song I was unfamiliar with (it had echoes of ZZ Top). The move sort of summed up what makes Father John Misty work -- you have to know all the rules before you break them.
"Funtimes in Babylon" "Only Son of the Ladiesman" "Nancy From Now On" "I'm Writing a Novel" "Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2" "This is Sally Hatchet" "Well, You Can Do It Without Me" "Now I'm Learning to Love the War" "Tee Pees 1-12" "Everyman Needs a Companion" "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"
[Uncertain -- anyone know what this last song was?]
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Last Night: Father John Misty, La Sera, and Jeffertitti's Nile@ Rhythm Room The Crowd: A pack of roving ladies who thought they were in a Scottsdale club, some bearded dudes talking about an art gallery, lots of those cool witch hats all the ladies are wearing these days. Random Notebook Dump: Well, these will be a joy to read tomorrow. I Wonder: If half the audience would have sat through the psych rock torrent of Jeffertitti's Nile if J. Tillman wasn't sitting in the drum seat.