Father John Misty's Big Voice Fills Tiny Room During Secret Chicago Show

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 9, 2015 7:00PM

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Father John Misty at the Virgin Hotel, photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Josh Tillman has worn many hats, beginning as —by his own admission—somewhat generic singer-songwriter J Tillman, and later stepping behind the drum kit for Fleet Foxes just as they rocketed to unlikely stardom. He quit Fleet Foxes and after a bit of a vision quest, decided to strike our on his own again as Father John Misty, a persona whose brutal lyrics rub up against lush, beautiful, multi-layered musical compositions. To call Misty a persona is somewhat disingenuous; it's Tillman's ability to unflinchingly be himself that makes the songs of Father John Misty succeed.

The new album I Love You, Honeybear (out tomorrow) has a timeless and grandiose feel. It's larger than life with production that makes Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" seem like sheetrock. It's a huge step forward for Tillman, both sonically and emotionally, and we were left reeling after a handful of listens last week in preparation for his private Saturday night performance for about 50 people at the Virgin Hotel, the first in a planned series of similar events the hotel has in the works. This event was held in conjunction with the most excellent vinyl subscription series, Vinyl Me, Please, which is releasing a deluxe double LP edition of I Love You, Honeybear alongside the general release.

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Father John Misty, photo by Emma Tillman
I'll be the first to admit I find most events of the stripped down acoustic variety to be lacking, and entered the small venue with some trepidation since I Love You Honeybear is such a grand sonic accomplishment and for this show it would just be Tillman and a single guitar. But one minute into the evening's first song, the title track from the new album, I realized that Tillman was not only up to the challenge of delivering this material in an arresting manner, my attention never wavered over the hour plus long set of music.

A few songs into the set Tillman muttered, "Hit after hit after hit. And not a discernible chorus yet." For a performer with a history of a certain amount of arrogance, the only thing I saw on display Saturday night was a master musician handling the room. Tillman walked a fine line between confidence self deprecation, which prevented the concert from feeling overinflated. He's smart enough to know that when performing music as full of portent and deeply passionate as his latest work, something's got to give to allow the rawness to expose itself without scabbing over with cliché. This acumen led to an unforgettable, masterful performance that added layers of deeper meaning to I Love You, Honeybear, even as it stripped away the album's sound to its barest essentials.

The fact that Tillman's recent work can function so masterfully in both incarnations only deepens this writer's belief that Father John Misty is at the apex of his power with this latest release and that his work is a must-hear for everyone.

Setlist: Father John Misty at the Virgin Hotel in Chicago, Feb. 7, 2015
I Love You Honeybear
The Night Josh Tillman Came Into Our Apartment
I’m Writing a Novel
Strange Encounter
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
Only Son Of A Ladies Man
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
Holy Shit
Free Bird [snippet]
Bored in the USA
Well, You Can Do It Without Me
Now I’m Learning To Love The War
I Went To The Store One Day
Funtimes in Babylon

Bird On The Wire
Lady With The Braid