At first glance Father John Misty may be the hippie folk singer-songwriter with the country guitars, soft piano and the way-too-cheesy “honeybear” songs for couples in love.
“Every Man Needs a Companion – Someone to turn his thoughts to”
Entering the calm concert hall at Astra Berlin small groups of men, friends, stand closely to see their idol together. Long before the show starts, the air is “misty” and sticky, musty perfumes around, a little bit of smoke here and there, maybe the smell of weed. All the lights go out, silence in suspense, and the show starts with an intro of a dark and spooky voice talking about “sleep”. And Joshua Michael Tillman aka Father John Misty – illuminated by the green spotlights – enters the middle of the stage, with his acoustic guitar, with the greatest of ease, starts to strum, backed by his band and to sing, tenderly. “John the baptist took Jesus Christ / Down to the river on a Friday night”
They talked about Mary like a couple of boys / With nothing to lose / Too scared to try”
“Joseph Campbell and The Rolling Stones
Couldn’t give me a myth
So I had to write my own
Like I’m hung up on religion
I never liked the name Joshua”
Falling and letting go
The music of Father John Misty and his performance stands for easiness, naturalness, being yourself and feeling comfortable in one’s skin – no matter what others may think. Lyrics and mood do not only address love and emotions, but transmit the obsoleteness of role models, gender roles, materialism, jealousy or religious beliefs. His songs tell us about the importance to find yourself and create your own myth, your own role in this world and to leave something behind. He sings about compassion and forgiveness, honesty and having no fear.
Masterfully performed easiness, deliberation and sensuality
Knowingly sold as sex-symbol, Tillman doesn’t really care about a manly rock star pose or a cocky guitarist attitude, but instead falls into the ease of delicate dancing, playing, joking and letting go. Throwing away his guitar into the back of the stage may be a theatrical and long-awaited pose, applauded by the audience; his guitar well-caught by his stage-assistant, but also means deliberation of your duties in the right moment. And that’s what everybody should try.
Shaking it all off in a jumpy careless dance, spellbinding with his elegant and well-posed motions, rhythmically winding his shoulders and hips like a snake. This kind of masterfully performed easiness and sensuality you don’t see often in nowadays artists’ performances. When Father John Misty just literally lets himself fall ̶ into the music , on the floor of the stage and on his knees, in front of his band and audience, he is kneeling in front of music, but also in confession of emotions and passion: be it sensual passion, humour or passion for the things going on in the world, passion for life.
“Life is brief” so be passionate about it
There is wistfulness in every song, the performance is playful and tender, honest and true. Still there is no doubt everything on stage happens with a wink, nothing is taken too seriously, every word between the songs is tongue-in-cheek, humourist at best in the song “Bored in the USA”. This performance included a premiere. Referring to his sweat-soaked black shirt, sticking to his skin, Tillman asked: “Do you see my drugs and pizza belly? And looking down to the black jeans: ”Or my penis? This might be the first time I say the word penis on stage. What an artistic breakthrough!”
Father John Misty transmits an easy-going “laisser-faire” attitude and makes people enjoy theirselves, embrace life and be passionate, because “Life is brief”.
“Like An Animal”
Closing his set with his as he said “favourite love song” the Nine Inch Nails cover “Closer”, an electrifying dance tune with the lyrics “I wanna fuck you like an animal, I wanna feel you from the inside” may stand as the bottom line: Live as freely as possible, feel, dance as if no-one looks and sing and nevermind the others’ opinion, just shake them off and rock it out.
Tillman comes from an evangelical Christian family, who was concerned about spiritual living and often felt as culturally oppressive to him. In his childhood years he wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music, but he learned to play drums and at the age of 12 the guitar. Discovered by Damian Jurado in Seattle, he started releasing music and touring as J.Tillman in 2003, all together 8 albums. From 2008 to 2012 he played drums and sang with Fleet Foxes. Under the pseudonym Father John Misty he released two albums: “Fear Fun” on Sub Pop in 2012 and “I Love You, Honeybear” in 2015.
His newest song “Real Love Baby” was released in May 2016.
(After the show he came down to the fans to shake hands and dance with them)
Susanne Heßmann is a published arts-writer and online editor, based in Berlin. She holds a master degree in cultural studies, has been working in printed and digital media and in the art field.
Susanne loves to share her musical obsessions as music journalist, radio host and DJ, on her own webzine repeat magazine – occasionally directly to her dear fellows by humming and singing them wherever she goes.