Live Review: Father John Misty with Tess & Dave at Paramount Theatre 4/6/16

all photos by Matthew B. Thompson

As we waited at the Paramount Theatre for the Father John Misty show to begin, a fellow show-goer said to me, “Sometimes he walks around the crowd during the opener. He followed me on Twitter today and I literally died, so I’m gonna say hi to him if I can find him.” I wondered in my head how this girl was going to spot him – there were only fifty or so people around, but it looked like one-in-every-three guys had long Jesus hair and a full-bodied beard to match. I asked her how she would distinguish him from the mass of lookalikes, and she laughed. “Trust me, I’ll know.”

As show opener, Tess & Dave, took everyone by surprise with their set, and in the glow of stage lighting, the faces of the audience ranged from confusion to rapture. It was medieval, renaissance fair, sometimes 70’s rock with a Bowie-esque sense of borderline-comedic showmanship. The two entered over a pre-recorded track and did a choreographed mime-y dance that transitioned into a waltz as the audience scratched their heads. There was a song – apparently written the day before – about Hummers, which was basically a long string of car puns that concluded with Dave forgetting the chorus so they winged it by repeating “Subaruuuuuu.” Tess pulled a very Excalibur-like plastic sword out of a stool before doing an outfit switch, going from flower-headdress festival pixie to Jazzercise space suit. She even did a “Rock Lobster”/Wham! style dance, with a humongous, cheesy grin splayed across her face as her arms swung pendulously, snapping into the mic. They closed with an absolutely gigantic song as Dave laid into a Moog synth, creating a huge, echoing sonic, and psychedelic, cathedral, and left the thoroughly impressed audience wondering if the whole thing was actually some sort of musical joke.

Tess & Dave:

When headline Father John Misty strode on stage, I understood immediately why the girl I had been talking to earlier had laughed at me. Josh Tillman was walking silk, smooth as melted chocolate, effortlessly slick. His suit was too tight and the sleeves too short, his long hair wavy and unmanaged, his beard bountiful and indistinct in it’s boundaries – any mortal man would look halfway between slovenly and stupid.

There’s a comedy around Tillman and his music – there are Christian references left and right, some sincere and some sarcastic. This makes sense given his strictly religious upbringing, which he ultimately shunned, and it’s from a well-informed viewpoint that he lampoons the whole lifestyle. His dancing is erratic and often hump-y, making “come hither” fingers at an audience of melting women, an over-the-top R&B sexuality sung by a Jesus-looking dude set to country/folk alt rock. It’s confusing, to say the least. While his vocal chops are unquestionable and his arrangements are tried and true, it can’t be overstated just how magnetic a showman he is. He even hurled his guitar – he didn’t throw it, he hurled it. It was a perfectly nice acoustic guitar, and just as a song was reaching it’s climax, he launched the poor thing to the wings, never to be seen again.

The set was a monster, an hour and a half pre-encore with cuts that spanned his career. Standouts included “When You Are Smiling and Astride Me” – in which he put his whole body into each and every “ooh” of the chorus – and “Bored in the USA”, but the whole show peaked during the encore, which began with a solo rendition of “I Went to the Store One Day” and hit its stride as the band rejoined him for a cover of Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” He prefaced saying, “this has to be the most beautiful song about going down I’ve ever heard,” which even made me blush, and as the crisp 808 hats began to ring – an electronic touch that stood in stark contrast to the rest of a rootsy show – the audience unleashed a “Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show” scream as the last few of us who had remained standing were fully liquified, a giant puddle of concert-goers all sweating and swaying as this hairy, gangly man absolutely killed it.

Father John Misty:

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