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Father John Misty

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Josh Tillman brings his charismatic troubadour alter-ego Father John Misty to Glasgow and puts in a truly compelling performance.

Image of Father John Misty

@ Academy, Glasgow, on Thu 12 May 2016

Father John Misty: the country-soul showman, the charismatic troubadour, the deadpan comic, the theatrical cult leader. A character so compelling, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. Of course, he is exactly that: a character. He is the latest incarnation of Josh Tillman, previously known as J. Tillman, a maudlin balladeer who released a series of under-the-radar albums with titles such as Cancer and Delirium, and then following this, spent time as the unsatisfied drummer for indie folk group Fleet Foxes.

The transformation into his Father John Misty alter ego however, has been huge, both in the level of success he has achieved and in his performance style. Finally let loose from the trappings of his earlier work, he is every inch the showman. Whether swaying behind his acoustic guitar or throwing himself around the stage, often finding himself on his knees or using the mic stand as a prop to some silky dance moves, he makes for captivating viewing. Of course, this is all part of the act, and the Glasgow crowd are very much in on the joke as he expertly holds them in the palm of his hand for the duration of the gig.

The showmanship would be to no avail if his music wasn’t so great. Latest album I Love You, Honeybear gained him international recognition and had a place on nearly every “Best Albums of 2015” you could find. It purports to document the experience of falling in love with his wife, Emma, and is full of searing insights and confessionals against the backdrop of what he perceives to be the mindlessness of modern day life.

With such intimate and personal lyrics, along with the sheer passion in his performance, it becomes hard to distinguish between the character and Tillman himself. Plaintive declarations of love such as in the swooning title track I Love You, Honeybear, sit beside caustic moments of sarcasm, such as the character assassination of an “insufferable” female in The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment. Just when you think Tillman is being serious, he hits you with his dry wit; as if everything is done with a wink. It’s a shame that there is virtually no banter with the crowd though, given his sharp sense of humour. Instead, his conversational lyrical style is met with rounds of laughter and cheers from the crowd, particularly on Bored in the USA, a highlight of the night. It’s a piano ballad, complete with deadpan delivery and a canned laughter backing track, with brilliant lines such as “they gave me a useless education and a sub-prime loan on a craftsman home”.

The setlist moves between lighter folk melodies and heavier psychedelic rock moments, proving there’s more to the man than sarcastic observations; his vocals are particularly impressive, holding the room to silence on ballads such as I Went To The Store One Day. During the encore he rather humorously introduces Rihanna’s Kiss It Better in typical Misty fashion, a song so incongruous in the middle of a set filled with pure melody, before rocking out to Ideal Husband to bring the night to an end.

In one final weird and wonderful moment, Tillman comes down from the stage to show his appreciation for the crowd, who greet him like a cult leader. However, the mask of sincerity slips once again as a mashup of Drake’s Legend blasts over the PA, and more mad dancing ensues.