Concert Review: Father John Misty, April 20, Massey Hall


Father John Misty brings us closer to God at Massey Hall
By Rob Duffy

Is Father John Misty trolling us?

Four years after emerging clad in his LA-bound lowlife alter-ego, former folkie Josh Tillman continues to explore the solipsistic paradox of looking for love in a world addled with prescription drugs and subprime mortgages. Though his heartfelt hooks, cynical lyrics, and deeply ironic dance moves may not add up on the surface, the free-wheeling live show Tillman brought to Massey Hall last night demonstrates that the cult of personality curated by this purported hippie-poet-clergyman shows no signs of slowing down. Sure, we’re left to ponder the extent to which Tillman may have turned his whole career into a rock star-sized inside joke, but along the way, it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride.

All the fans who somehow emerged tickets in hand following another Massey Hall website queue disaster (or scored a pair when the venue randomly made a few dozen available the day before the show) were treated to one of the indie-rock events of the season, with Tillman leading a workmanlike backing band through the balance of his two critically acclaimed records as Father John. And, of course, engaging in a wide variety of antics: lovingly stroking the head of the security guard minding the front row, pretending to steal the cell phone of the fan who motioned for a selfie, and adorning himself with the flower crown of a woman who looked like she’d gotten lost on the way to Coachella. Tillman also gave his knees a genuine work-out, crashing dramatically to the floor at the crescendo of nearly every song. His on-stage posing and preening may come off as artificial, but that’s okay, since it’s also genuinely hilarious.

Though his stage banter was decidedly toned down from the nihilistic ranting that we’ve gotten used to, Tillman more than made up for it with his best material, a deeply cerebral mix of faux-earnestness and mock-despair (“Chateau Lobby #3” vs. “Bored in the USA”). In creating Father John Misty, Tillman has conjured a character who’s as comfortable musing about the staggering amount of oil it takes to produce a record (“Now I’m Learning to Love the War”) as he is running into the crowd for a cathartic dance party during his singular up-tempo electro jam (“True Affection”).

So is Father John Misty executing a perfect post-modern pantomime, or is he nothing but a sad-sack strummer with some heavy thoughts? His encore cover of Nine Inch Nails’ shock-rock classic “Closer,” while a curiously perfect fit, offers some hope of an answer. At first blush, the song boldly expresses just about everything Father John attempts to subvert with his apathetic ballads, and adds yet another dense layer to Father John Misty’s ongoing vat of cultural criticism. It’s a complex casserole he’ll no doubt have added to when we see him next on album number three.

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