Live review: Father John Misty

Ellen Peirson-Hagger witnesses a show packed to the brim with energy, sexuality and romance

Photo: flickr

“I never liked the name Joshua / I got tired of J”, croons Father John Misty, opening the last of his three Roundhouse shows with the ingeniously twee ‘Everyman Needs a Companion’, the final track from his Father John Misty debut, Fear Fun.

It is no wonder that he was restless as Josh Tillman, drummer in Fleet Foxes, or, in fact, as J. Tillman, under which he released eight critically unsuccessful folk/Americana albums. It is only now, as Father John Misty, a name under which he could be anything from a wayward preacher to a hallucinating shaman, that Tillman has put his genius lyrics and arching melodies into play, receiving critical renown with last year’s I Love You Honeybear.

Far more important is the silhouette of his tall frame in a slim-fitting black suit, thrusting out moves half-way through ‘Holy Shit’ as though he were on a dancemat. He, a pulsating body on the floor amongst this cosmic breakdown, singing “Love is just an institution based on human frailty” with an unrivalled sincerity.

And this is the thing about Tillman: one moment he is standing upright, howling about “ancient gender roles / infotainment, capital”, and the next he falls to his knees, crying “People are boring / but you’re something else I can’t explain”, overcome with the romanticism of his own lyrics. The whole show is a roller-coaster canonisation exposing his wit.

And this wit of his embodies so many levels of human existence. One such level is that of Tillman’s marked sexuality. “I wanna take you in the kitchen”, he sings on ‘Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)’, one of the finest songs of last year. The furious sexuality of his lyricism oozes with promiscuity, the kind rarely handed to a sweaty room full of strangers with such a straight face. The man is an outrageous performer, but that doesn’t mean his show is inauthentic. He may well cavort his body daringly to the rhythms of his band, but no matter how many guises of ridiculousness under which he slathers his music, nothing will detract from the intelligible crispness of his song-writing.