Reading various online thinkpieces and articles about the man, you’d expect Josh Tillman (better known as Father John Misty) to be some sort of sardonic curmudgeon on stage. Though he may play up his “cynical poet” persona on the internet, in reality Tillman is a downright charming performer who simply injects his (occasionally dark) sense of humor into his work. Playing the Royal Alexandra Theatre this past Friday, he and his fifteen piece backing band put on a thoroughly entertaining performance that engaged the crowd with their intellectual balladry while Tillman elicited a steady stream of guffaws from them in between songs.
The theatre proved to be a very appropriate venue for the elaborate sounds of Father John Misty; its ornate flourishes matching the orchestral folk and its sweeping string section. It’s the man’s words that really stand out though, and Tillman’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics had the crowd’s rapt attention. His ruminations on modern culture are just as powerful live as they are on the records, and the offerings from his latest (appropriately titled) album Pure Comedy continue the trend of skewering every conceivable topic under the sun with a lighthearted attitude.
Latest single “Total Entertainment Forever” takes on virtual reality headsets and the notion that soon all of society will start living in computer generated utopias- a sort of philosophical spin on the vision of humanity seen in Disney’s Wall-E. It came early on in a set heavy with new material. Only one song from 2012’s Fear Fun made the cut- the grungy, dark “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”. Songs from 2015’s I Love You Honeybear were some of the most well-received, with the audience squealing in delight upon the start of the title track from that record. “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” was also a highlight, with everyone getting out of their seats for a dance party (and remaining standing afterwards). Not the usual for the Royal Alexandra!
Tillman stayed quiet for the first third of the show, letting his music do the talking for him. Once he started the in-between-song banter though, there was no stopping the quips and asides. There was even a Q & A period in between the main set and the encore, during which Tillman fielded questions with his trademark sense of humour. “Where are you gonna be after the show?” a female fan inquired. “Just going over the show with my band, sharing notes and observations,” Tillman deadpanned. The man is not just a world class songsmith but a natural comedian as well; a Father John Misty show is just as much about the laughs as it is about the tunes.