Review – Father John Misty at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Oct. 8, 2013
– by Ria Nevada
Fans of folk-revival heroes Fleet Foxes breathed a collective sigh of despair when their drummer J. Tillman announced his departure from the band in 2011. Plagued by a period of depression and a lost sense of purpose, he left his home of Seattle, drove down the coast and eventually settled into a spider-filled tree house in Laurel Canyon where his creative voice finally started to resurface. At first, it took the form of a novel and then transformed into a collection of experimental songs. It was in this liberated space where he emerged as Father John Misty, the blessed vehicle for all his exploratory, unrestrained and acutely poetic laments.
The bar was set high for his performance at the Commodore Ballroom. His debut (under the Father John moniker) release Fear Fun was one of the most beloved records of 2012 – Pitchfork heralded it as his “best album to date”. On Tuesday night, Tillman sauntered onto the stage to the reverent applause of his supporters. Spirits were high in the packed venue and our leader was at ease and in top form, summoning the swagger of a young and debonair Tom Waits. Within the first few bars of “I’m Writing a Novel”, his soul-bearing and crystal-clear voice captivated fans.
They chimed in on every single track from Fear Fun, as if they had been memorized from Sunday School. More accurately, they sang along as though they shared his same convictions, fears, frustrations and longings. He was easily one of the most magnetic performers I had ever witnessed. Masked by darkness for most of the show except for a golden light outlining his figure, his voice and rhythmic guitar strumming were enough to command everyone’s attention. His bluesy runs and velvety falsetto on “Nancy From Now On” swirled around heads like that blissful, hazy sensation you get as you fall on your bed after a long night of whiskey slugging.
When Tillman ventured into new tracks from future unreleased recordings, he held fans’ concentration by bringing in a six-foot tall iPhone screen to frame his body and mock our unreasonable attachment to mobile devices. He also took a break mid-set for a mini Q&A with the audience. He proudly professed his love for the He-Man cartoon growing up, and his dream to become the Master of the Universe when he hit adulthood. He may not be riding Cringer the Battle Cat or defending Grey Skull, but he’s got a faithful following that Prince Adam would envy.
His quirky sense of humour extended to his lyrics – I hadn’t heard an audience guffaw so much at any other concert. Full on laughing fits broke out as Tillman sang “I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on. I obliged later on when you asked me to choke you”. There is something incredibly brazen, raw and mesmerizing about Father John Misty – enough to render all the lovers, dreamers, artists and drunks in the crowd (or any combination of that list) defenseless to his charms and talents.