Father John Misty
The Bomb Factory, Dallas
Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017
Josh Tillman isn't quite the jerk that his detractors would have you believe he is, but he's OK with having you think so. Tillman, better known by his musical alter ego, Father John Misty, played The Bomb Factory in Dallas on Saturday night, and that gray area helped fuel a fascinating clinic in showmanship.
Tillman, more than most, has a reputation that precedes him. His propensity for onstage monologues and trolling of fellow celebrities has a way of getting reactions out of people, and not at all by accident. But there was very little snark to be found in Father John Misty's two-hour set Saturday. In fact, there was very little conversation at all on Tillman's part, save for giving a mostly thoughtful answer to a fan's question during the encore.
Perhaps that's a change of pace from Tillman's earlier tours, but on a more basic level, it's entirely consistent with the body of work he's created as Father John Misty. Where the curmudgeonliness of both his songwriting and public persona might be construed as arrogance, he also demonstrates a great deal of self-awareness. His songs often gravitate toward explorations of hubris and the follies of humanity, but in a way that's wry and skewering rather than hand-wringing or condescending.
Tillman set that tone at the beginning of the night when he opened with "Pure Comedy," the title track from his latest album and the namesake of the tour. "I hate to say it, but each other's all we got," he lamented in the last line of the song, which served as an overview of sorts of what was to come. Two songs later, he disparaged the earth as "this godless rock that refuses to die" — a fancy way of expressing not so much a Bukowski-esque disdain for his fellow men as the notion that they, or we, aren't long for this world.
The theater that comes with being Father John Misty — the comedy, as it were — is, in part, a test for his audience. Tillman is a modern-day Merry Prankster, and you're either on the bus or you're off. He seems perfectly happy alienating those who can't properly laugh at themselves. There are times when it's harder to tell whose side he's on — is he mocking those who would write a novel because he's one of them? — but the truth is that no one's free of fallibility or embarrassing self-absorption in his world.
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Obscured a bit by all the posturing is the fact that Tillman is really a hell of a performer. Charismatic and an even better singer than you'd know from his recordings, he danced and shimmied around the stage, twirling his mic cord or hoisting its stand above his head as the mood struck him. It wasn't too much to tolerate when he leaned on the mic stand during "Strange Encounter" and extended his palm to the crowd for melodramatic effect, but it could have been. When he flailed to the music on "True Affection," it was in a manner that was self-conscious without being calculating.
Which is sort of Tillman — or Father John Misty, or however you choose to think of him — in a nutshell. He may not be concerned with what you think of him, but he'd love to push your buttons — not because he's a jerk but because he knows his place in the universe.
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