This past Sunday Josh Tillman (as Father John Misty) took the lawn stage at the White Oak Music Hall as part of his Pure Comedy Tour. With Weyes Blood as an opener, this concert gave every Misty fan in Houston the show they’d been waiting for since his new album dropped, and also gave the most compelling argument to new fans for why Father John Misty should be in every music fan’s library.
Weyes Blood (the stage name of Natalie Mering) gave a very enjoyable opening performance. Her blend of folk rock and psychedelic electronic music served as a great prelude to Tillman’s set, as he has experimented with blending the same genres, albeit in different ways. She mostly performed songs off her new record, Front Row Seat to Earth (2017), but also included a cover of the George Harrison song “Run of the Mill.” She closed her set with “Do You Need My Love,” a single from her last album. Her performance was definitely more subdued than Tillman’s, as opening acts usually are, but her passion translated to the audience, and the exciting ending definitely left the crowd energized for the main performance.
As the band walked out onto the darkened stage, the opening sounds of Pure Comedy (2017) played over the speakers. The first piano chord of the album’s titular hit, and the spotlight illuminated Josh Tillman. The band ran through the first four songs off the album, while visuals inspired by the cover of the album are displayed on the screen. The band is not accompanied by a string orchestra for this performance, presumably due to cost or perhaps the size of the stage. Many of the string and horn melodies are covered by the guitar or the keyboards. Although it would have been better to hear the songs more faithfully to the album, given the circumstances the band does a fantastic job translating the songs into a live setting.
After the first four Pure Comedy songs Tillman played older songs from his discography, mostly from I Love You, Honeybear (2015). He also played several songs from his first album Fear Fun (2012), and a couple more from Pure Comedy. Many of these songs are also have horn and string parts covered by different instruments, but it’s much less notable than the songs off of Pure Comedy. The music is exactly what you want out of a live show; different in interesting ways, but overall faithful to the studio recordings. Tillman changed a couple of lyrics and melody lines here and there, most notably in “Bored in the USA,” where instead of asking to be saved by President Jesus he asks for “President Anyone.” Some of the most exciting parts of the show were when he put his guitar down (or threw it like in “Nothing Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”). Tillman’s dancing is seen as goofy by some, but like Thom Yorke in Radiohead it comes across as an actor fully inhabiting a role, expressing the music and words through his facial expressions as well as through his body. While never fully moshing, he did lean over into the crowd during “I Love, you Honeybear,” which featured a backdrop reminiscent of the one he used on the previous tour.
Tillman’s on-stage banter is more subdued than previous performances, presumably do to the heavier subject matter on this tour. He does make the occasional joke or remark, including one memorable moment when Tillman had to get a new guitar because his was out of tune. “Do you have any idea how terrifying it would be to tune a guitar in front of you?” he remarks. “I’d be like, ‘what are notes?'” Other than that one moment, there were no other technical difficulties with the show. When Tillman came back for his encore, he told the audience he had decided to give a percentage of the tour to Houston for Hurricane Harvey relief. He then performed the last 3 songs of the night, ending with “The Ideal Husband.” After the song culminated into the abrupt finish of the song, and of the night, Tillman waved to the crowd as he left the stage, cracking a smile for the first time all night. Despite the heavy subject matter of a lot of the lyrics, Tillman’s humorous delivery and pleasant music was packaged in such a way that fans old and new walked away still feeling the buzz from the night. This show captured everything about Father John Misty in one night. With his new album almost finished, whatever the next iteration of Father John Misty is, you won’t want to miss it when he comes back to town.