An evening of unique insight and equal humour at the O2, as Father John Misty brings his trademark wisdom to Manchester
O2 Apollo, 5th November
Father John Misty, AKA Josh Tillman, brought his ‘Pure Comedy’ tour to the O2 Apollo on Sunday night with a mammoth 24-song set, playing songs from all three of his albums. He presented a confident yet cynical stage performance that was highly intriguing to behold.
Behind the main man was a varied band and stage crew that displayed great chemistry and organisation. After, and occasionally during certain songs, Tillman would quite literally throw his guitar to the side of the stage, only for it to be caught by a member of the crew, with another on stage ready to be handed to him.
There was no ominous wait for this performance, with the lights dimming and the band onstage as soon as the clock struck nine. Tillman then got straight to it, playing album opener ‘Pure Comedy’, a song as ambitious lyrically as it is musically, building from a simple piano and vocal duet to a whole orchestral peak.
No words were exchanged with the audience until roughly half-way through the performance, when Tillman aptly commented “I should probably check in,” before revealing that, unlike in controversial interviews, Facebook posts, and indeed in his songs, “I really have nothing to say”.
Prior to this, his only communication outside of his songs had been with sinister glares and flamboyant dancing, all of which perfectly complimented his vivid lyrics. That isn’t to call him standoffish, though — as the audience sang along to the melancholy ‘Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow’ a seemingly spontaneous comment describing the sound as “so beautiful” was a pleasant insight into a musician’s appreciation for his fans.
The persona of Father John Misty reached its zenith in the song ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.’. It is tough to think of anything more ‘Father John Misty’ than watching him play his own song whilst his own music video of himself meeting and then making out with himself shows in an enormous projection in the background.
Other, more inventive projections behind the stage were a real highlight in their own right. Bosch-like animations created by Ed Steed would frequently appear of the monstrous people who can be seen on the album’s cover. The line “It’s just human nature / this place is savage and unjust” made clear these were a mocking comment on humanity itself.
Whilst each song was performed almost verbatim to the studio versions, Tillman’s lush vocals and incredible stage presence — gyrating and knee dropping all over the stage — showed a highly impressive energy. Certain songs actually seemed to lend themselves better to live performance, with ‘This Is Sally Hatchet’ offering some beautifully exaggerated guitar chords that are hardly noticeable in the studio version.
As the performance progressed Tillman spoke to the crowd more, occasionally galloping off-stage to stand at the barriers and interact with his audience. This was at no point more evident than in the final performance of the night — ‘The Ideal Husband’ — much of which Tillman spent at the front of the stalls, astonishingly with no detriment at all to his vocal ability.
His perspective on life is truly unique whilst paradoxically relatable. It immerses you in your deepest fears and critiques of this world and then makes you smile at how ridiculous it all is: Life in this purest of comedies.
His scathing outlook on humanity, often expressed in ten-minute pieces like the encore performance of ‘Now I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain’ may not be for everyone. But even under a moniker, it can’t be said that Tillman doesn’t give a genuinely honest and powerful performance.