A few weekends ago, Father John Misty performed right near the Tufts campus at the Somerville Theater. After a long solo career as J. Tillman, during which he released seven albums, he “relaunched” under this new persona to release 2012’s fantastic Fear Fun. Perhaps what was most exciting about the night was seeing him so comfortable with the Father John Misty character, and having a clear direction of where he’s going from here.
To start the night, Tillman featured comedienne Kate Berlant. Berlant is a New York City-based performer whose satirical, offbeat style took the audience by surprise. She opens her act by coming on stage with an acoustic guitar. “Oh, a musical comedienne”, most of us thought. Instead, we got a hilarious caricature of self-indulged performers. Her act consists of her intending on “playing a couple of songs” for the crowd, but constantly getting distracted and going off on pretentious tangents about this world we live in and the media and missing someone who you’ve never even met.
It can be hard to describe her satirical, deadpan sense of humor, but it was pitch-perfect. As soon as the audience picked up on the fact that she had no intention of actually playing any music; “Okay, I think I’ll play a song now. Oh, but before I do…”, we were howling. Fittingly, she concludes the show without playing a single song, but justifies it because of the “connection” she had with the audience. The video below showcases some of her material, albeit without the help of a guitar as a prop or an audience that actually understood what was going on.
In truth, Kate Berlant was the perfect choice for an opener, incorporating the same type of satirical, hypocritical social commentary that shows up in Father John Misty’s lyrics.
The stage was set for the main event. The lights dimmed and he emerged slowly in a suit donning a large rabbit mask. He set it on a chair to the side and began his first song.
His set encompassed every high point of Fear Fun, along with several new tracks from his forthcoming LP I Love You, Honeybear. He put on a powerful set, commanding the dimly lit stage like an entire ensemble was there. In between songs, his comedic banter was equally entertaining. At one point, he mentioned how he wished there were some way he could prove that this show had happened. A stage assistant brought out a body-sized iPhone frame to the stage, through which he played his next couple of songs. After all, the header on his website for live shows is “I’M COMING TO YOUR TOWN SO YOU CAN FILM ME ON YOUR IPHONE!”.
The performance was lengthy, emotional, and speckled with comedic bits. It’s no wonder that in his free time, he’s writing TV pilots and looking for acting roles.
What’s great about Father John Misty as a performer is how he can take material from the first album and play it equally emphatically either with his backing band or on his own. With the backing band, he is loud, boisterous and charismatic on stage. Solo, he’s equally charismatic, but his songs assume a slightly more contemplative, melancholy tone. It was an excellent night at the Somerville Theater, showcasing perhaps a bit more Fear than Fun.