Wednesday, January 16, 2013

REVIEW: Father John Misty & Magic Trick Jan. 8 at Firebird

photo by Maximilla Lukacs 
Let us talk about Father John Misty—he of the gyrations and animal noises, the Vegas caricatures and the effortless confidence, renowned as much for his online dance clips as his granulated, handsome voice.
Misty walked onstage to an eager audience. “Oh, this is going to be too easy,” he chuckled. Yeah, it probably was. But the crowd's attention spurred on Misty’s candor. However self-indulgent his performances are, it pays to remember that Father John Misty, née Joshua Tillman, has a voice that levels the folk genre and arrives with a highly calibrated backing band.

In the set’s opener, “Fun Times in Babylon,” to a packed crowd enthralled into silence, Misty strolled around The Firebird stage, reveling in the steadiness and rustic quality of his own voice. However wistful, though, it soaks up attention.

Misty played the crowd as his true instrument. Pausing before the last stanza in "Look Out Hollywood Here I Come," he hushed the crowd with a single finger to his lips, bent his six-foot frame down to scoop up his trusty tambourine, slapped it once so it rang into the heavy silence, waited for the laugh, and swung back into the song with the panache of a '70s lounge singer.

The two gentlemen on either side of me exchanged glances. “I’m in love with him,” one confessed. The other nodded.

Misty, live and in the flesh, lives up to every video of him captured online. With karaoke dramatics, sudden dance steps, and ad-libbed lyrics, his performance unfolds as much between the songs as during them. He got his first belly laughs when he held his O'Fallon IPA aloft, read the label's boast about a 2008 prize, and ran a quick vocal sketch: "Do you think this beer ever gets drunk and walks around the bar?" he wondered. "Like, 'Back in 2008 I was the best beer in St. Louis! Those were the days…'" He described his old days of waking up on the couch all too often to the endless loop of a Lord of the Rings DVD menu, then later introduced his band in terms of Lord of the Rings characters, introducing the crowd to Gimli on guitar ("well, it's the axe," he said, gesturing at the instrument), Gollum lurking behind the keys…

Misty's touring crew was top notch, especially former Ambulance LTD guitarist Benji Lysaght. While care-taking the original versions, the band added additional voicings, filling out Misty's already ardent aesthetics with their own hidden inspirations. Under their power, “I’m Writing a Novel” had the swing of a '60s surf-pop number, with a new added background riff that bumped elbows with The Monkee’s “I’m a Believer.” Lysaght added a layer of authoritative distortion to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" while maintaining the song’s necromanical roots.

With the band secured, Misty has room to throw himself around the stage. He dances with abandon, like a white girl trying to be sexy, swinging his hips left and right like a biological imperative. In his previous solo work—billing himself as J. Tillman—he was less cowboy disco than his current work, and lacking any of Misty's dramatic flair. As Tillman he could sing just as beautifully, but as Father John Misty he expresses himself in a way that suggests interpretive dance. He can certainly put on a show.

The two-song encore began with “I Love You, Honeybear,” in which he explicitly refers to his days as J. Tillman, Misty performed with just Lysaght on guitar, then crooned his way into Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again.” His dance moves reappeared: hands thrown above his head, Misty threw himself to his knees repeatedly, shaking his head like he was trying to feel his brain hit the walls of his skull.

I've never seen anything like it.

Fun Times in Babylon
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Nancy From Now On
I’m Writing a Novel
Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2
Sally Hatchet
Well, You Can Do It Without Me
Now I’m Learning to Love the War
Tee Pees 1-12
Everyman Needs a Companion
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
I Love You, Honeybear
On the Road Again (Canned Heat cover)

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