The Multiple Personalities of Father John Misty, Tonight at Neumos
Father John Misty Montage, proof I have too much time on my hands
Musical performances on late-night TV shows are usually unworthy of commentary, but its been nearly a week since Father John Misty’s coming out on Letterman … and its still all I can think about. Talk about seizing a moment. Instead of a bland, watered-down, less-than performance, edited and scrunched to fit inside TV’s tiny box — the performer formerly known as J. Tillman pranced and danced and sang beautifully — in a way that astonished those of us who’d followed his career for years and viewers who’d never heard of him before.
Tillman’s new album, released under the moniker of Father John Misty, is a study in multiple personalities and shedding heavy expectations as if they were light as feathers. Gone is the introspective, sad, solo artist J. Tillman and in his place, a psychedelic peacock. Plain spoken, with as little pretense as an album who calls out Sartre by name can be, Fear Fun explores the facets of Tillman that were repressed as he tried to fit his acerbic wit, dirty mind and slicing sarcasm into the mold of the mysterious singer-songwriter. On some listens I’m convinced its the most ballsy, brilliant album I’ve heard in years. On others I find myself cringing wondering if its so over the top its awful. It moves maniacally between country, loungey numbers and fastidiously orchestrated ballads. Unlike his other records and the projects he’s been part of, Father John Misty is anything but background music. This is an album and a character that makes you stand up and take notice, listen closely, think and listen again. In a world of albums so easily digestable they’re instantly forgotten, Fear Fun and Father John Misty sticks with you.
After nearly a decade of seeing Tillman hiding behind long-locks, a giant beard, an acoustic guitar or a drum kit — seeing him on Letterman in a closely tailored suit, newly shorn hair, a handsome as hell, confident frontman — it was enough to give you whiplash. Within the first minute as he has brushed off the Rolling Stones, thrust his hips, gestured grandly, shot shade at Letterman when claiming his fondness of the Dodgers; I found my jaw literally, physically dropped. Was he mocking us? I’m still not sure. What I’ve come to decide, after a week of replays and conversations with others who’ve had Father John Misty on the brain, is that he was personifying the character. Tillman became the titular ladies man he sang of. He was woman kind’s first husband — flamboyant, sexual, devious, smooth.
But the ladies man is only one of 12 personalities and facets explored on Fear Fun — and I’m curious to see who all comes out to play tonight at Neumos. I’m still not sure whether I’ll land on brilliant & ballsy or too over-the-top, but I am sure I want to see and hear more from Father John Misty. So I’ll be the girl in the front row with the neckbrace on, just in case there’s even more whiplash inducing moves in store.