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A Pure Comedy preview: Father John Misty live in London

27 March 2017, 12:48 | Written by Chris Shipman

It takes approximately sixty seconds for Father John Misty to have his audience eating out of the palm of his hand. "The miracle of birth leaves a few issues to address", he croons on tonight's set opener before emitting a wry shrug and nonchalant nod as he sets the record straight on the perils of the human condition. "Like how half of us are iron deficient / So somebody’s got to go kill something while I look after the kids / I’d do it myself but, what? / Are you going to get this thing its milk!?"

Tonight’s intimate performance (Rio Cinema, Dalston, 24 March) sees indie rock’s favourite faux padre (aka Josh Tillman) give London audiences a first taste of tracks from his forthcoming new album, Pure Comedy, prefaced by a screening of a short film documenting the process of making the record. Predecessor I Love You, Honeybear was a knock-out hit, beloved for its biting musings on the rise and falls of an embryonic relationship. His latest effort sees Misty shift focus and train both barrels on the perils of living in a hyper-connected age. If it’s a subject matter that sounds glib, fear not - where a lesser artist would flounder in the morass, Misty soars, his bountiful charisma making Jarvis Cocker seem like Hans Moleman in comparison.

There’s a sartorial shift too: Gone is the former Fleet Foxes drummer's trademark beard and long hair, replaced with a spivvy moustache (set off with a fetching great coat) that makes him look like an 80s B-Movie actor.

An early set highlight is "The Ballad of the Dying Man", a pretty jazz-inflected number introduced with an apology for the track saturating the airwaves on BBC Radio 6 of late. The tune sees Misty skewer society’s obsession with social media’s eternal scrolling and echo chambers: "Eventually the dying man takes his final breath / First checks his news feed to see what he’s about to miss / it occurs to him a little late in the game", he wails as piano chords shift towards the minor. "We leave as clueless as we came".

Ironically, in the hours before tonight’s performance, clips of Misty’s surreal and deadpan BBC Breakfast interview that very morning had gone viral online and he takes a break half a dozen songs in to relive the experience in front of the sell-out crowd. "Cynical life-haters", he dubs them during a tongue-in-cheek rant that - but for the accompanying wink and the nod - could have been plucked straight from a Bill Hicks set.

The tracks that follow see the barbs continue unabated, including middle fingers to unabashed capitalism on "When the God of Love Returns, There’ll be Hell to Pay" (complete with sky-cloaking locust imagery) and "The Memo", in which the now-of-worldly-means troubadour vows to buy a sports team out of sheer boredom and to "wage the old crusade against consciousness".

There’s an extra treat for the audience during the encore with the performance of an untitled yet-to-be recorded song, a taster of a still-coalescing album to follow Pure Comedy. A gorgeous solo ballad, the tune’s refrain is an apt one as Misty prepares to depart the stage, before returning to play substantially larger auditoria and festivals in the summer: "I’ll see you next time around the bend".

Three albums into his career in his current guise, Tillman is at the peak of his powers. The release of Pure Comedy on 7 April can’t come soon enough.

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