The air smelled faintly like marijuana. Behind me, I overheard a conversation about someone’s sister in Vermont ordering sperm from the only non-profit bank in the country, which, naturally, is in Berkeley; another group was discussing psychedelic use. I was undoubtedly at a Father John Misty concert in the Greek. However, anything less stereotypical and I would have been disappointed. Joshua Tillman’s entire image is centered around his ability to consume the absurdity he attracts, spitting out work known for its cynicism and eccentricity. His work is satirical, but that’s only the medium through which its expressed. The underlying man behind Father John Misty uses his stage persona to create an ostentatious, humorous, and dramatic delivery, but behind the insanity is sincerity that can only be deeply felt from a live performance.
In early ancient Greek theater, a single man would perform an entire tragedy. On a marble, open-air theater, the actor would sometimes be accompanied by a chorus and chorus leader, aiding the performance with song and dance. Ironically, this description can characterize Father John Misty’s concert at the Greek Theatre, as the singer-songwriter half-acted, half-sung most of the night. Even in my bleacher seat, removed from the stage and densely packed pit, I was captured by Misty’s stage presence. The entire night, I felt as if his entire discography was literally coming alive, as Misty strutted, whirled, and weaved through the musicians on stage. I never knew I wanted “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” to become its own spin-off Broadway production until I saw Father John pick a bar fight with an imaginary person mid-song. A live piano made “Nancy From Now On” magical, and the live strings enhanced every song featuring them to a level I had not known possible.
To be fair, I was skeptical of Joshua Tillman. Weary from past headlines of Misty’s infamous stage rant, and his overall blasé attitude in interviews, I was expecting a haughty, pompous character to come out and only pique my innermost I Love You, Honeybear (2015) desires. Instead, Father John took us to church, getting on his knees in worship to the female subjects in his songs, preaching to the heavens with evangelistic hand gestures, and exposing the crowd to his raw, emotional sermon. Every song was made his own, personal monologue, as he showed dismay during “Pure Comedy” and waltzed around for “True Affection.” Misty’s vibrancy is beyond the scope of description, and much of the experience was simply being in his presence. He was quick with his movements, witty with his stunts (including a video montage of a one night stand — with himself), but could just as effortlessly harness his shenanigans into composure, as he coolly dealt with technical difficulties and addressed the audience during the encore.
After an electric “I Love You Honeybear” to “close” the show, Misty came out to deliver a bubbly “Real Love Baby.” I found myself exiting the venue with “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” dragging out the concert like just like the track drags Pure Comedy (2017). While I should have ultimately left after the dramatic, whimsical “finale,” hearing Misty’s droll voice allowed my heart rate to slow down just enough to gather my thoughts. I left the Greek with many ideas to ponder, but one I cannot seem to completely grasp is the character that was on the stage that night. Enigmatic, unpredictable, and wildly entertaining, the man under the spotlight was as slick as his trademark blazer, and I often couldn’t tell where Joshua Tillman stopped and Father John Misty began. Who knows – the difference may just be in the name.
Written by Delaney Gomen.