September 19, 2017 | by Jocelyn Hoppa
I saw Father John Misty about a year or more ago at the Fillmore in Philly, a venue I've come to hate. Especially for a weekend show, it seems people just kinda go there because it's the Fillmore and near a Dave and Busters. It has some 800 rooms to chill in, many large bars, food, and, if you're a first timer no one would fault you for not knowing where the hell the stage is. On that night, it stood to reason a lot of folks didn't necessarily care about seeing FJM as much as they did about talking through the entire set. It really tainted the experience.
There was also the Philly show last July, where FJM played the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, NJ — he refused his guitar upon taking the stage and went on a straight rant saying, "It feels better to be angry than it does to be fucking devastated that shit looks the way it looks... Maybe just take a moment to be really fucking profoundly sad. It's a lot less sexy of a festival look." He then performed a 10-minute improvised piece, covered Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire," and walked off the stage to not return.
This past Friday, September 15, it was a lovely late summer evening as Father John Misty played the outdoor sister stage of the Mann Center. He wasted no time with banter or pageantry, kicking off the set straightaway with "Pure Comedy," and then shot right into "Total Entertainment Forever" and "Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution." If one were to close their eyes, the warm, full musical arrangements and his on-point vocals sounded as if the record was being blasted across that field we were all standing it — FJM sounded that good.
A lot of the more drawn-out, contemplative songs off of Pure Comedy were expectedly low energy, but there's basically no way to avoid the tedium of some of this material. But there were also plenty of moments where he'd turn up the intensity by breaking out into some Misty dance moves (especially for the techno-laden track "True Affection"), standing up on the drum kit or falling to his knees to put a finer point on the devastation or redemption found in the lyrical content. FJM is not without his own performance ticks, however, like the hand-to-head bit ... but what's a performer to do when not holding an instrument but rely on some patented moves? I don't have any good answers.
Standing next to me was a bearded guy wearing a Tad shirt, sort of looking a bit like FJM himself, who kept yelling out "Jack Pepsi" (title of a Tad song). I gave him a "what the?" look, and he told me about this Father John Misty t-shirt with a big picture of Tad Doyle's face on it (which does exist). Anyway, he kept yelling "Jack Pepsi" between songs, and eventually it seemed like FJM acknowledged him with a smirk. Beardo Tad Guy was pretty stoked on that.
Anyway, it was a nice night and a nice show. The sound was great and we were out of there by 10pm. It wasn't a religious experience, as his performances have been described countless times before. There was almost zero Misty banter (a bit of a bummer), and flat out no nod to his last show here in the City of Brotherly Love. He showed up, played a solid set on a beautiful evening, and left it at that. And guess what? It's okay — perfectly fine, in fact — to enter into Father John Misty's world and not have the whole deal further complicated by shenanigans or turned it into some 4,000 word think piece for it to mean something. He was redeemed in my eyes, just by comfortably being himself: musician and performer.
Check out this video Beardo Tad Guy took and was nice enough to share with me (okay, truth told, this funny guy is my life partner). You'll see FJM perform "Bored in the USA" as he stops the set to listen to "literal crickets" — and then you'll hear a guy telling someone to shut up because, you know, Philly. (You'll also hear "Jack Pepsi" so you know I ain't lying!)
Full set list:
1. Pure Comedy
2. Total Entertainment Forever
3. Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
4. Ballad of the Dying Man
5. Nancy From Now On
6. Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
7. Strange Encounter
8. Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
9. When the God of Love Returns There'l Be Hell to Pay
10. When You're Smiling and Astride Me
11. True Affection
13. A Bigger Paper Bag
14. Bored in the USA
15. The Memo
16. I'm Writing a Novel
17. Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
18. Real Love Baby
19. I Love You, Honeybear