All words: Emily Crawford — All photos: Kara Capelli from their last show in DC
Full disclosure: I have a huge crush on Josh Tillman. This may make me slightly biased as I review his Saturday night performance at the Black Cat under his current professional moniker, Father John Misty. That being said, good luck finding anyone who was at the show and doesn’t have a crush on him now.
Tillman clearly loves the spotlight, but this seems to be less for narcissistic reasons and more out of a genuine love of performing. He began the night by drumming for the first opening act, Jeffertitti’s Nile, but I have a feeling that a large part of the crowd had no idea who the unassuming bearded man was until he came out onstage later as the headliner (at which point he became far from unassuming). This was probably more as a chance to exercise the instrumental skills he honed as the drummer for Fleet Foxes in his pre-Misty days than anything else, because when he took the stage for himself, he would be far too busy dancing to do much more than shake a tambourine. And good god, the man can dance – but more on that later.
The second opener was La Sera – another solo project from someone who got started in the background of a group act – this time that of Katy Goodman, of Vivian Girls fame. Their set was a light and fun intro to the laid-back California vibes that would continue with Father John Misty, but Goodman’s iteration came with lots of surf guitar and lofty alto female vocals, a nice contrast to Tillman’s jangly, folksy rock.
Fairly late in the evening, what with the doors opening at 9 and two openers, Tillman and company finally took the stage, opening with the slow-paced, hymnal-like “Fun Times in Babylon.” But as soon as they started their next number, that aforementioned dancing started up. Tillman makes dancing to psychedelic folk far sexier than anyone I’ve ever seen – he shakes his scrawny little hips, he points his fingers and gesticulates along with the lyrics – and on anyone else, I would probably find it too affected, but you get the sense that he dances this way by himself all the time just because he’s stoned. And the more he cuts loose, the more the crowd responds to him, cheering on his antics and slowly developing crushes similar to my own. If the crowd had been an all-female groupie-fest, this would have gotten old quickly, but that wasn’t the case – the man just knows how to woo a crowd, regardless of gender or sexual preference.
They played nearly all (if not all – I was too busy swooning between beers to take notes) of Tillman’s debut album as Misty, Fear Fun. For me, the highlight was my personal favorite “Writing A Novel”, but the crowd favorite became clear when the chords began for “Hollywood Cemetary Sings,” the first single from the album. They wrapped up the set shortly thereafter, but came back for a several-song encore, finishing with a cover of Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again”. This song choice really summed up for me why Father John Misty has such a refreshing sound: his style, his attitude, even his seeming penchant for hallucinogens all evoke a late ‘60s, early ‘70s California pysch-folk vibe the likes of which the indie scene hasn’t heard in a long time. Rumor has it that he wrote the album while holed-up in a cabin in Laurel Canyon with a bunch of mushrooms, and it shows.
By the end of the show, I realized why his stage presence is so appealing, and why the two girls in front of me were fawning even more emphatically than I was. In terms of showmanship, he dances the fine line between egotistical and charming; yes, he knows that he can make the crowd cheer with every twitch of his swaggering hips, but he’s genuinely having fun with it, and it shows. Perhaps most importantly, he simply does not give a fuck, as exemplified by his irreverent lighting of a cigarette on stage during the encore at the non-smoking Black Cat. He’s not afraid to be weird, funny, self-deprecating, or even nerdy in his lyrics (A favorite line of mine references “Heidegger and Sartre, drinking poppy tea,” in the same song where he sings about bumming money to tip a stripper), and that attitude carries over to his stage-presence. He acts like he could very easily be making a fool of himself onstage and he genuinely wouldn’t care, because he’s having so much fun.
Bottom line: yeah, my crush is well-founded.