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22 May 2016

father john misty at london's the roundhouse


It's 9pm, and the London sky has a hue of pastel blue. I don't think I've ever seen so many beards before in my life; there are Josh Tillman lookalikes for miles. This groomed tide of facial hair is due to the fact that I'm outside the Roundhouse in Camden about to see Father John Misty. I've never been to this venue before, and I'm at once struck by its beauty - the tussle between modern sleek architecture and a Victorian birdcage. Tonight we've traded in the tired legs and sharp elbows of the bottom deck for the relaxed nature of the balcony, and once inside we happily take our seats. 

I last saw Misty over a year ago at The Sage in Gateshead as part of the BBC 6 Music Festival. Back then, I was newly acquainted with his 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear and its 2012 precursor Fear Fun, and knew little about the former Fleet Foxes drummer. Now, 16 months on, the beautiful melodies and smart lyrics feel like an old friend. This 2016 tour would seem odd for any other artist armed with a distinct lack of new material, but Tillman has always been one for flouting conventions. The numerous sold out shows (including the one I'm attending) indicate the scale of his unwavering following. We're nowhere near bored of his back catalogue.

The set begins with 'Everyman Needs A Companion,' a folk-enthused soft song that's a favourite of mine. It's soothing, pretty, and introduces us to Tillman's honeyed voice, along with the various religious allusions in his songs. "John the Baptist took Jesus Christ/ Down to the river on a Friday night," he sings. "They talked about Mary like a couple of boys/ With nothing to lose/ Too scared to try." Throughout the set, I can't help but see Father John as a long-haired preacher figure. Decorated by angelic brightness, then doused in red light he stands in the centre of the stage commanding his congregation with every silky note. At one point he takes to the floor, writhing and thrusting in a slick routine that gives the illusion of somebody overtaken by a spirit, their body speaking in tongues. Later, he descends to the edge of the railing encapsulating the crowd. He folds his body onto his people, hugged by the shaking hands of strangers. 

Tillman's set is ingenious. It is both volatile and seamless. Choreographed and chaotic. Soft and soaring. He seduces the audience with his magnetic charisma, and repeatedly changes songs to keep us awake, alert and allured. During 'Holy Shit' we're lulled into a state of contentment with the similar sounding country blues-tinged rock we expect, before with a CRASH we're sucker punched by a loud channelling of instruments akin to a heavy metal band. 'Don't get too comfortable!' it's as if Tillman's telling us, the disciples on the edge of our seats. Tonight love, faith, sexuality and music are all invariably fluid through the lens of our microphone stand twirling Messiah. 

Other personal highlights of the show include the soulful, sensual arrangement of 'When You're Smiling and Astride Me' and the encore cover of Patti Smith's 'Because The Night'. This night indeed belongs to lovers - the narratives of unconventional love, lust and sex that dominate FJM's poetic sometimes overshadowed verses. 

In his closing and perhaps his most well-known song 'An Ideal Husband,' Tillman speaks of a male protagonist blackened with selfish behaviour, who seeks domesticity as a kind of ironic salvation. "I said, "Baby, I'm finally succumbing"/ Said something dumb like "I'm tired of running.../ Let's put a baby in the oven/ Wouldn't I make the ideal husband?" Is this man Misty? Is he a Sinner dressed as a Saint? Is he more John the Baptist than Jesus? The storyteller baptising us and converting us with the rainbow light show, confetti and bubbles. Does it matter? No. "Bubbles are tough as fuck," Tillman says. Only someone as inherently cool as he could pull this off with such impeccable ease.

Everyman needs a companion, and once again Father John Misty has been aurally and visually one of the best I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

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