(Originally written for relix.com1)
Photo courtesy of Nic Turiciano
Father John Misty
“Who is Josh Tillman?”
The question was one a casual show-goer couldn’t be blamed for asking. He had now been mentioned twice on stage: once by the lead singer of initial opener Jeffertiti’s Nile and now again by Vivian Girl-bassist and La Sera-frontwoman Katy Goodman.
Until earlier this year, the answer was simple: Josh Tillman was the drummer (and occasional harmonizer) for Seattle’s favorite forested troubadours Fleet Foxes. Occasionally, he’d step out to perform under the truncated handle J. Tillman, a project with which he has since dispensed. But after parting with Fleet Foxes in January, Tillman went solo for good and released the excellent debut album, Fear Fun, under his newest—and most intriguing—avatar, Father John Misty.
At Denver’s Bluebird Theater on Saturday night, Tillman wasn’t simply there to recite Fear Fun as Father John Misty. He initially took the stage much earlier than expected, drumming for opener Jeffertiti’s Nile—featuring FJM basisst Jeff Ramuno on lead vocals and guitar, conversely—before emerging as Father John Misty, which itself proved a composite of several distinct voices.
First, there was Misty as the solemn soothsayer on album and set opener “Fun Times in Babylon,” a genuinely pretty ballad sung and pantomimed equally convincingly. Then, after “Babylon” faded, crooner turned comic as Tillman cracked wise about the implications of electing a cat president in the upcoming election (“What’s a barrel of milk gonna cost in five years?”), a running gag on the night. Later, “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” had Misty on a somewhat moralizing pulpit, serenading the congregation at the Bluebird in advisement to not think about “the truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record,” before about-facing into the out-and-outrageous electric square-dance “Tee-Pee’s 1-12.”
The shifts in tone were drastic. But even through his biggest switcheroos (“In all seriousness, thank you all so much. Really, thank you, Denver….for the omelets.”), the sold-out audience stuck with Father John Misty the whole way through. Why? Because on stage, there was only one prevailing aspect of Josh Tillman that mattered: the entertainer. And in Father John Misty, it’s the bit that comes through brightest.