Father John Misty @ The Roundhouse, Camden - 20/05/16

by EdwardClibbens
EdwardClibbens
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on 23 May 2016 in Live
Rating 9/10

Generally speaking, The Roundhouse, for all its impressive new-ness, is a rather soulless venue. All clean, crisp and lacking in atmosphere. I’ve only ever seen one band completely counteract that (Future Islands), until now that is. Going into tonight’s Father John Misty gig, the final of his three sold out nights here, my expectations were enormously high. Having been blown away by his performance at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill last year, it was hard to imagine how tonight wouldn’t be spectacular, but it was also hard to imagine it quite matching up to that first experience.

Needless to say, it wasn’t quite the same as that magical night when I lost my Father J virginity, but by all other standards, it nye-on faultless. The only aspect that could be considered a fault was the inexplicable exclusion of ‘Strange Encounter’ from the setlist. That aside, his performance was once again a tour-de-force of charisma and a lesson in how to be a frontman. What is most striking is just how powerful his voice is. On record it is wonderful, but live it is entirely captivating. With only one, scarcely audible, backing singer, his voice completely engulfs the room and not once do you find yourself longing for the backing vocals that are ever present on I Love You, Honeybear.

Kicking off the set with ‘Everyman Needs a Companion’, he then launches into a trio of his best tunes. Firstly, ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’, the closest thing he’s ever written to a conventional rock song, sounds just as urgent as it did when it was first released. ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’ showcases his vocals at their most spectacular. Where the studio version relies heavily on a choir for the chorus, live he tackles it alone with ease. As he writhes around the stage, regularly dropping to his knees, pleading with the audience, the wit and humour of his songwriting comes to the fore. The lines “I’ve got nothing to hide from you... kissing my brother in my dreams, or finding god-knows in my jeans... You see me as I am it’s true, an aimless fake drifter and a horny, man-child mumma’s boy to boot” perfectly encapsulate everything that’s great about Josh Tillman’s alter ego; part self-proclaimed Messiah, part self-depreciating court jester. His stage presence too is hilariously referential, at times a possessed Nick Cave, at others a wonderfully camp Jarvis Cocker and quite often an overtly sexual Jim Morrison.

He sheds further light on his often contradictory character during the third of these tracks, ‘Only Son Of A Ladies Man’ - “I'm a steady hand, I'm a Dodger's fan, I'm a leading brand, I'm a one night stand, I'm a ladies' man”. As so often with his lyrics, they’re faux-arrogant, strangely sombre, genuinely funny and consistently absurd. All of those adjectives collectively define Father John Misty. It’s rare in this day and age that an artist can create a stage persona to disconnect from themselves whilst reflecting so honestly and humourously on their own life and faults. What’s particularly impressive about his live performance is that you never lose track of the narrative in the songs and in many ways he is like a stage actor, taking these short stories of love, sex & death and bringing them to life.

The sense of theatre and his connection with the audience is most evident during ‘Bored In The USA’. A song which has in many ways become his trademark. A darkly funny song and commentary on post-economic crisis American. At the end of the song, the audience, with no prompting, recreate the canned laughter from the recording as he reels off a list of scathing comments about American life. It’s rare, in a time where people tend to view shows through their phones and talk over the majority of the quieter moments, that the entire audience hang off an artist’s every word and remain entirely transfixed throughout.

In a roundabout way, despite writing songs that are mostly dramatised snapshots of his own life, Father John Misty has become a voice of reason, irony and comic relief that resonates with a generation of people that are fed up with the tedium of politics, war and everything in between. This is where I think his true appeal lies. In his ability to see the funny side of the sadder things in life, he reflects something that we all must do in order to counteract the boredom.

 

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