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Live Review: Father John Misty – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 28/10/15

30 October 2015, 13:57 | Written by Sam Warner

Joshua Tillman frames himself as a mythological being.

His persona as Father John Misty, a mix of Nick Cave-like eccentricity via some sort of sociopathic crooner, evokes the sense of a twisted but charming cult leader. It is obviously his most successful incarnation, having won him widespread acclaim in a career that has seen him dip in and out of Fleet Foxes, as well as his own moniker J Tillman.

The religiosity of tonight’s (28th October) Shepherd's Bush Empire show – a venue size much larger than the intimate ones he is accustomed to as Misty, and his biggest UK date so far – encapsulates the cultish reverence that he is held in, which he will only build upon more as he gets bigger.

Whether he’s acting as a deadpan stand up comedian or literally losing his shit in songs such as “The Ideal Husband”, falling to the floor like some possessed preacher, he does it all with every ounce of his tormented soul, and stirs something weirdly empowering in the few thousand devoted that are here to witness it all. At some moments, as he falls backwards and thrusts, its like he’s literally fucking the stage. At others, he teases the microphone stand like David Byrne and his lamp in Stop Making Sense. Yet while most acts would use such stunts as gimmickry to fill in for a lack of definable substance, its all the more powerful given Tillman’s exceptional (albeit two album) back catalogue.

“Don’t ever doubt this / my steadfast conviction” he croons on opener “I Love You, Honeybear”, dedicated in every word he utters, whether you as a listener attribute it to lust or just the context of playing a show. Similarly, on Fear Fun’s ‘Only Son of the Ladiesman’, Tillman wears his heart on his sleeve. His talent for intimacy also translates itself to the gathered mass on a haunting version of latest LP I Love You, Honeybear’s closer “I Went To The Store One Day”, the musician alone onstage with a guitar. The solo ballad demonstrates that he’s the real deal, and his material from Honeybear sits strongly next to that of Fear Fun.

Earlier in the evening, following “Bored In The USA”, a hymn to modern disaffection, lanky wonder Tillman fittingly grabs a fan’s smartphone; he stares at it alone for a few moments, the crowd awaiting one of his famous onstage witty musings. “Hmm, slide to power off…” he mutters, orchestrating a rapturous applause by way of just a few words, before cheekily pocketing the phone. Later in the set, he continues to banter with the crowd, at one instance an audience member taking up the role of red carpet reporter by asking him what designer he’s wearing. “This? It’s a $35 suit from H&M” – take that capitalism!

Alongside the music, Tillman’s comic timing is something his Misty persona is built upon. Following Ryan Adams’ recent Taylor Swift 1989 covers album, he humorously took a sly dig at Adams by posting his own, Velvet Underground-themed covers of “Welcome To New York” and “Blank Space” online, though he quickly took the songs down after he claimed Lou Reed appeared in a dream commanding him to remove them.

A few people shout for him to play those covers this evening, along with his recent acoustic version of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” – he doesn’t, unfortunately. Yet even if the setlist were just made up on an evening of Taylor Swift covers, he would still hold the audience in the palm of his hand through the sheer power of personality. Don’t worry, his own music is pretty phenomenal, and he duly plays Misty for us. We are his Honeybear, and we sure as hell love him.

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