Judging by the crowd full of swooning young females at the Rock n Roll Hotel on H Street in DC, you might assume that this act of handsome misfits was built for a feminine following. You’d be half right, but the content of the artist’s lyrics and style is much closer to Vonnegut and Bukowski than Adam Levine and Bieber. While the band’s looks and charms have the girls weak at the knees, Joshua Tillman, you had me at ’21st Century Schizoid Man,’ the song roaring from the speakers as they made their way to the stage.
That entrance did a great deal of work to assuage the expectations of journeying tales sung with angelic harmonics that you would certainly find at a Fleet Foxes show. You won’t find those here; Tillman left that band for a reason. Forgive him for saying ‘fuck it’ to the beautiful, mass-appealing songstry of the Fleet Foxes, instead opting for the sarcastic wit of Jeff Winger on a psychedelic binge down the coast. Unless your disc jockey bleeds the same acerbic blues as Bukowski, you won’t hear many radio singles here.
Sure, no molds are being smashed as far as song composition goes – “This is Sally Hatchet” and “Writing a Novel” sound aged and dated – but you can bet his hammered musings are as vital as you will find in the world of Hollywood that he’s simultaneously transplanting himself to and excommunicating himself from. Tillman’s brand of sarcasm is full as much with lethargic apathy as it is with innuendo; sardonic sex appeal certainly isn’t for everyone.
If you don’t quite get his humor which frankly raises the album from mundane to integral, I highly suggest Father John Misty’s live performance. Not only is it filled with brilliantly bonus lyrical asides, but Tillman is a talker and he keeps the audience laughing by poking fun at himself, bringing his new persona back to earth. Throughout the set, he fills the gaps between croons of heart and soul with deadpan, monotone asides, playing both cynical poetic genius and cynical peanut gallery.
Even if you do already enjoy his sarcasm and ironic writing, hearing him spout it out in his clear, natural oak of a voice, you’ll pick up on any clever lines you may have missed the first listen through. That’s a tribute to the dynamic of the music. The classic southern (and at times, hickabilly) rock appropriately takes a back seat when this man takes the mic. In the dispensing of a single trailing phrase, Tillman turns a flailing death wish into a relevatory affirmation: “I’m gonna take my life. I’m gonna take my life…back one day.” Ironically, even in his rebirth he is listlessly languid, supine, effete – unable to be fully positive.
So, do yourself a favor and let Father John Misty take you on a journey through his mid-life crisis of sorts. It doesn’t disappoint.