Concert Review: Father John Misty, October 15, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

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One thing I have learned about Father John Misty is that the guy tours, A LOT. Since last October, I have seen Josh Tillman play four times in Toronto – the first time almost exactly a year ago, at Lee’s Palace. Riding on one album released in 2012 (Fear Fun), Tillman admitted at his recent August show at Danforth Music Hall that he was sick of playing the same songs every night. And honestly, who could blame him? Memorably, that show was abruptly halted when hecklers struck a nerve and Tillman stormed off the stage instead of delivering an encore.

Surprisingly, days after that dramatic incident, a FJM solo tour was announced. Tour some more? Why not!

The modest turnout at Queen Elizabeth Theatre seemed abuzz with retellings of Tillman’s “freak out” in August – evidence that attendees of this show were still happy to see him play again, a mere two months later. Adoring fans screamed when the house lights shut off and a figure emerged on stage – a tall figure wearing a pink, plush cartoon bunny head. Tillman removed the bunny head and placed it on a chair facing the audience. Most of the show was lit only with one spotlight, casting a tall guitar-toting shadow on the theatre wall.

Launching into “I’m Writing A Novel,” Tillman’s voice was in fine form, accompanied by an acoustic guitar. The difference between solo Tillman and his Father John Misty persona was evident with the absence of his band. The full FJM package includes Tillman swinging his hips, dancing wildly and almost always, swilling some form of alcohol. On stage with Tillman were two acoustic guitars in a stand, a wine glass and bottle atop a small circular bar table and a single clothes hanger hanging on a rack (more on this later).

Solo, Tillman did not seem at all nervous. Rather than act as a wild entertainer with his raucous band, Tillman entranced the audience with his musical sincerity. He expertly balanced vulnerability in song with stage banter featuring his signature sardonic wit and self-deprecating humour (and drank only water, no booze).

Well-loved songs from Fear Fun were performed with ad-libbed extra verses or deadpanned comments, and dramatic extended pauses were inserted, for extra reflection on the lyrics. If he is truly sick of playing these songs, it didn’t seem that way from these acoustic versions.

Tillman balanced the setlist with selections from Fear Fun – obvious crowd pleasers – and a smattering of new songs, most notably one called “I Love You, Honey Bear.” It will be interesting to see how these songs evolve if they appear on the next FJM record – will they be fleshed out with a full band, or will some remain as emotive acoustic tracks?

Halfway through the set, Tillman walked over to the rack with the clothes hanger. He removed his blazer and hung it up. He then walked over to the bar table, picked up the bottle and proceeded to pour its contents (red wine?) into the wine glass. He kept pouring it, even when the glass overflowed. Someone in the audience yelled, “Dude, you’re wasting it!” but Tillman kept pouring. Once the bottle was empty, he set it down and walked away. There was hesitant laughter in the audience. Without a word, Tillman went back to the mic, picked up his guitar and resumed the set. Random.

After a standing ovation, Tillman returned for an encore. Before playing, he sheepishly addressed his aforementioned “freak out.” Referencing a bratty childhood habit of throwing temper tantrums, Tillman explained that he would always find “the softest surface” of the floor, before throwing himself facedown into a hissy fit. Admitting his childish behaviour, Tillman called Toronto his “soft surface” and apologized, professing how much he likes our city.

Judging by the second standing ovation the crowd gave him after the three-song encore, Toronto likes Father John Misty a whole lot too. All is forgiven.

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Posted on by Wini Lo in Concerts

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