Father John Misty – The Forum, Melbourne (09/02/18)

Having seen Father John Misty play in the somewhat inappropriately formal setting of the Recital Hall last year, I was looking forward to the Californian guru’s return to The Forum. Hitting the stage right on time, and backed by a band who similarly looked straight out of a ‘70s coke den, Misty cut a commanding figure replete with thick-rimmed glasses, a pale shirt open to the chest and an abundance of tangled hair.

The opening drum beat of ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ brought cheers of recognition, and moving swiftly into ‘Nancy From Now On’, both from his debut Fear Fun, it was clear that this would be a greatest hits set, as the need to promote last year’s Pure Comedy had passed.

The band consisted of drums, piano, a bass player who also played synth – sometimes in the same song – guitar, and another keyboardist who sometimes also switched to guitar. The sound was, obviously, quite full and the group easily recreated the sometimes lush sounds of the recordings, although there were some notable changes. These had less to do with alterations to the arrangements or tempos, but more that generally the set seemed notably laid back, and the prevalence of organ, twangy guitar licks and the occasional bit of slide helped to add a country rock flavour to the material.

Misty himself seemed uncharacteristically sombre and still, barely uttering a word throughout the night, which, as anyone who has seen him before will be aware, is not the norm. Whilst at the same venue three years ago he staged a rambling Q&A with the audience, riffing comically off what people called out. Tonight though, he never smiled, and the few things he did say seemed forced and unhappy.

This didn’t take away from the power of the music though and his voice was as strong as ever. ‘Strange Encounter’ was an early standout, featuring some fuzzed out guitar solos, an ominous organ and staccato bass line. Halfway through ‘Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow’ Misty pitched his acoustic guitar to a pair of waiting hands and the song switched into weirdo rock mode as he danced aggressively, singing with bile, energy and beauty all at once.

‘Bored in the USA’, delivered with microphone in hand and accompanied mostly only by piano, sounded absolutely stunning, the sarcastic delivery balanced by the beautifully mournful melody.

Though there were further moments of brilliance, particularly ‘I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain’ and ‘Total Entertainment Forever’, the set list felt like it began to lag towards the end, with Misty’s lack of energy becoming more noticeable.

Returning for an encore he attempted to speak but gave up, saying he couldn’t think of anything funny to say. “If we had maybe an hour we could develop something,” he said. “Instead I think I’ll just play some sardonic folk rock.”

‘Holy Shit’ started as it does on record and underwent a big change in vibe halfway through, à la ‘Thirsty Crow’, but the sudden ramp up in tempo for the set closer of ‘The Ideal Husband’ was almost shocking. The band kicked into gear and Misty writhed and screamed through the I Love You, Honeybear highlight as if letting out everything he had been holding back for the last hour and a half.

Was it an unusual gig? Yes. Was it still brilliant, touching and a privilege to witness? Absolutely.

Written for Beat Magazine.

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