OK, I’m finally convinced: Josh Tillman is a star. Though 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear grabbed hold of me for a bit around the time of its release, and I saw him play a brief festival set in 2016, I was never quite sure how to feel about the divisive singer-songwriter until Friday night.
Tillman, better known by his stage name Father John Misty, has put together an impressive career in the six years since he left his post as drummer for the beloved indie outfit Fleet Foxes and adopted his new moniker. After four highly regarded and successful records under this new alias, he and his band finally made their first stop in South Florida on Friday night, at Miami Beach’s Fillmore, supporting this year’s God’s Favorite Customer.
Following an opening set from psychedelia-infused garage rock band King Tuff, Tillman and his nine-member backing band took the stage for opening song “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” appearing only as silhouettes bathed in red light.
Backed by a massive band, which included a three-member horn section, Tillman infused his songs with a depth that was often lacking on record. Songs that I routinely skipped or flat-out couldn’t stand were augmented for the live setting, elevating the night’s peaks and ensuring that none of the 23 songs fell flat.
During the second song of the night, “Mr. Tillman,” Mr. Tillman himself finally emerged from the shadows and presented himself to Miami for the first time, dressed in an all-white suit, sans tie, sporting the same famous beard that adorned so many of the T-shirts in the crowd. The Fillmore may not have been sold out, but it didn’t matter, as Tillman’s stage presence throughout the nearly two-hour set filled every crack, crevice and empty seat in the venue.
Tillman’s signature self-deprecating, caustic sense of humor (see my personal favorite example here) was on full display through his lyrics throughout the evening, though at times, during the evening’s more boisterous moments, the vocals were too muddy to discern. At one point in between songs, he addressed the long wait that fans in South Florida endured by quipping, “It’s nice to finally be here. What took so long? I guess we had to make sure that Tulsa, OK was squarely nailed to the wall first.”
Though Tillman’s skills as a songwriter are frequently lauded, his vocal prowess was arguably the most impressive aspect of the show, with nary a flubbed note. Heshined brightest when he put down his guitar and placed his charisma as a singer front and center, on full display, such as during “Hangout at the Gallows,” the standout track of the set from his most recent record.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t one of the evening’s many grandiose moments that convinced me of Tillman’s singular star power, though many could have. Instead, it was the only solo acoustic song of the night, and one that I routinely skipped when listening to his music in the past: “I Went to the Store One Day.” I was struck by the remarkable silence in the crowd as Tillman performed, alone with his guitar. Though the usual chatter among the crowd had persisted throughout the set until that point, something about this song had the power to silence every single person in the venue, to the point where one could have heard a pin drop when he paused. Not many performers can command rapt attention from a crowd the way Tillman did, and far fewer could do it with a simple acoustic ballad when juxtaposed next to raucous songs like closer “The Ideal Husband.”
“I Went to the Store One Day” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBYjAVqMtqo
“The Ideal Husband” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awNaPJI1g9U
It’s easy to write off Father John Misty, as his ego can often obscure his most laudable qualities. Take my word for it: he’s more than just the beard, the rants, and the countlessridiculousstoriesthat pepper music blogs and magazines. Once you get past all the noise on the surface of Tillman’s public persona, you’re left with what I finally realized on Friday night: He’s simply a damn talented singer and songwriter, who could very well be one of the standard-bearers for indie music for years to come.
1) Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
2) Mr. Tillman
3) Total Entertainment Forever
4) Nancy From Now On
5) Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
6) Ballad of the Dying Man
7) Hangout at the Gallows
8) When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay
9) Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
10) Only Son of the Ladiesman
11) I Went to the Store One Day
12) Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
13) Real Love Baby
14) Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All
15) Please Don’t Die
16) Pure Comedy
17) God’s Favorite Customer
18) Holy Shit
19) I Love You, Honeybear
20) Funtimes in Babylon
21) The Palace
22) Date Night
23) The Ideal Husband