There is a cloud of anticipation circling the air of the Leeds 02 academy. The stage is now lit and the almighty Father John Misty has risen from the neurotic depths of Josh Tillman, gracing Leeds with his holy presence. Ready to bless this Northern city alongside his devoted backing band with his double-edged hymns of love and life.
Father John Misty is the creation of singer songwriter Josh Tillman. A slick lounge lizard balladeer whose figure casts a Jim Morrison sized silhouette on every stage he plays while his music, for the most part, is a sardonic restoration of Waylon Jennings or Roger Miller. Some say he’s a caricature of Josh, drawn from a variety of aspects of his personality, while others say this is the closest to the real Tillman on record. There’s plenty of contradiction especially from Tillman himself, tonight is no different. From watching him give theatrical performances one after another tonight and listen to the live rendition of tracks from both of his albums as FJM especially everything from the album of 2015 I Love You Honeybear it’s hard to distinguish where Tillman ends and Father John Misty begins, on record there is only the music and lyrics to go by. Live, it’s a little simpler to spilt the pair.
The Father John Misty persona is a cartoon character, he is used at face value to put on a great show, the showman and to distinguish man from beast. His spirit may inhabit these songs Josh writes but the lyrical content is all Tillman. It’s cartoonish authenticity because it works well live. To watch the pair share a stage is fantastic. As if we are watching the psycho soap drama version of the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The show opened with the stormy country strut of “Every man needs a companion” as Father John Misty stalked the stage with his acoustic guitar. Whipping up the already excited crowd into frenzy, without actually muttering a word. When he does there is spotless silence and the audience holds every word close to their ears as if they were to drop and shatter across the ground. “Many Rivers to Cross” and the brilliant “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” follows on from the wave of momentum that was built by “Every Man Needs a Companion” and the sharp and morose “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”. The song is given a spectacularly soulful performance by FJM while caressing himself, the stage and the hearts of the audience.
The freewheeling “Writing a Novel” is both loose and fun and is closest FJM got to the bohemian spirit of the late 60’s he was trying to resurrect on “Fear Fun”. Whereas now he is more inclined to write introverted ballads with satirical bite like “Bored in the USA” which provides the evening with a standstill moment. There was genuine silence as everyone was transfixed with the holy man as he gave a sincere rendition of one of his more well known songs. A direction of sharp social commentary I hope he continues on LP3 with the odd romantic ballad thrown in it too, for the ladies of course.
“I Love You Honeybear” closed the evening and was the perfect song to do it. What better way to say goodbye than a song that literally says I love you continuously and also summarises Tillman’s deadpan cynicism yet romantic overtones into one song. Overall it was a masterful performance from Father John Misty and his band, constructed authenticity or not, the real Josh Tillman or a cartoon representation. As the great Dwayne Johnson said it doesn’t matter! Because it was just brilliant.