Angie McMahon’s powerful and surprisingly deep vocal filled the Melbourne Recital Centre, even if the majority of the seats remained unoccupied. The singer’s lyrical content and charmingly nervous between song banter revealed her youth, but this didn’t really matter once she began to sing.
After an interval, Father John Misty’s six-piece backing band, which was comprised of drums, bass/bass synth, keys, electric guitar, electric guitar/synth/pedal steel and organ/synth more than held their own throughout tonight’s performance, effortlessly replicating the at times ornate arrangements of the recordings.
The set began as if they were intending to play Pure Comedy in full, with the first four songs of the recent album delivered in sequence. Although they sounded incredible there was a distinct lack of energy in this section, which Misty, otherwise known as Josh Tillman, acknowledged, referencing the “slightly formal setting” of the seated recital centre.
The overly pristine sound of the recital centre and its system were also ill suited to the FJM sound, with his vocal and acoustic guitar effectively cutting through the mix but also seeming harsh and sibilant in the first part of the set.
The energy levels began to rise as the band moved into the somewhat more upbeat arrangements of songs from I Love You, Honeybear, beginning with When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, during which Tillman threw himself to his knees and sang directly to audience members.
The rendition offered of Birdy was beautiful, while the sudden explosion of sound in the middle of Holy Shit was an example of Tillman’s understanding of how to keep the crowd engaged.
Over the course of his five year career as Father John Misty, Josh Tillman has crafted a winning formula in both sound and character. His performances are never short of self-deprecating theatrics, whereby he both presents himself as a pop culture figure to be idolised – see the T-shirts bearing onsale in the lobby – and a pisstake of exactly that.
Tillman’s cooler than cool onstage demeanour and the slightly ironic delivery he gives to otherwise quite layered and dark lyrics is part of this act, the theatricality helping to keep the set somewhat upbeat no matter the tempo or level of despair of the song’s narrator.
All of which was on full display as Tillman and co. took the show home with a run of self-described ‘bangers’, during which the audience finally rose to their feet, including Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, I Love You, Honeybear and the show’s climax of The Ideal Husband.
Originally published in Mixdown Magazine.