Josh Tillman is known for his terribly smart dialogue. He never shies from onstage banter with the crowd, doing so better than most professional standup comics (opener Kate Berlant, a comic, faced a tough crowd before Tillman took the stage). Performing on a North American solo tour, Father John Misty performed in front of a lucky crowd, accompanied only by his guitar and his wits.
It was understandable to be a little wary stepping into The Commodore Ballroom on the night of Tuesday, October 8. Tillman was set to perform alone on stage. No band. None of his signature Jagger-esque hip shakers or playful dance moves with his hands. This carefree, loosy-goosy persona has made Father John such a likeable rockstar. But, those features are only a part of his onstage character. Tillman’s talent lies in his incredible songwriting tinged with unorthodox style and paired with haunting vocals.
The lights were turned down low for the most of the show. One spotlight was shining through him from behind. A tall, suited silhouette serenading the crowd with his tales of unconventional love, lust, and anything under the sun. The lighting made him look like a guitar-clad angel. His hair was the only visible part of his person; the light, shining from behind, enveloped the rest of him in a classy cloud of mystery. A line in a new song of his, “Bored in the USA”, could never ring more true during that moment: “Save me, White Jesus.”
The dancefloor was a misnomer that night. It had become a let’s-stand-and-gaze-floor. Besides the odd group of sways, the crowd stood almost perfectly motionless. Tillman’s voice hung in the air for moments after he would stop singing. Just hanging above the heads of those wrapped in awe of his raw talent.
Playing songs from his critically-acclaimed release, Fear Fun, in a stripped-down fashion transported the hundreds in attendance to Tillman’s living room. Or, to an open field sitting cross-legged in the tall grass with a cup of warm liquid and the wind’s breeze kissing your neck. This way of performing gave the impression that this was how these songs were intended to be heard when first written. Because, really, it’s the songwriting that defines Tillman’s music. His voice is majestic and his songwriting is pleasantly eccentric. This man is a true contemporary bard, waving his freak-folk flag.
A few songs into his set, Tillman pulled out a giant cardboard cutout of an iPhone. “I know you guys like to look at the world through an iPhone…” he said, before rushing offstage and dragging out the cutout; framing himself and the guitar as he continued with his set. A little poke at concertgoers who can never seem to stop documenting and just enjoy the show with their own eyes and not through a screen. Well played, White Jesus. An example of how he can cut a beautiful moment with his wit in an instant. Open-mouthed gapes widened into belly-rich laughs as the house lights turned on and Tillman worked the audience.
With true talent, all a person needs is a stage and an audience. Tillman’s simplicity rang clear through The Commodore Ballroom. There was no production, bass, Auto-Tune, fancy gizmos or boards with a thousand dials for every two thousand flashing lights. Only one voice, six strings, and hundreds of eyes glued to a man named Joshua. A man equipped with a voice made of velvet and a charisma that oozes raw honesty. We can’t help but love the guy.