Father John Misty, having last played Atlanta at Terminal West back during Rocktober, returned last night, this time playing the upstairs, Heaven stage of the godforsaken Masquerade. Jessica Pratt opened.
Backed only by very spare keyboards and occasional guitar, she never stood a chance. The audience chatted and kibitzed among themselves from the very beginning of her set, and as her set progressed the talking just got, if anything, louder. Even people at the front of the stage were busy talking to each other or playing with their cell phones, totally ignoring the performer on stage. Meanwhile, her songs, which are relatively quiet and built upon the subtle interplay of melody and lyrics, were completely lost on the audience.
Writing this, I realized that for some reason I've reverted to the third person, referring to the audience as a "they" rather than "we." I too was a part of that rude audience and I too never gave Ms. Pratt a chance, although I was at least sympathetic to her plight.
Not that it was completely our fault. She never really offered the audience, most of whom were likely unfamiliar with her music, a handle, a point of entry into her songs. Instead, she took the stage and seemed to just expect the audience to pay the attention that her quiet songs deserved, and which would have rewarded the attentive listener if any effort were made. But since we didn't know her or her songs, we needed to be given some motivation to pay attention, other than her admonition, early in the set, that "You really need to be a little bit quieter than that." To get people focused on her songs, she could have told a short story about one of her songs - how it was written or what it meant. If she started a song with something like "This is a song I wrote while living among cannibals in the rain forests of Brazil that reminds me of the impending cyber-spiritual apocalypse," or whatever, people would have shut up for long enough to let the magic of her beautiful music take effect, and would, if not have silenced us, at least brought the level of noise down to a dull roar.
Not that it was completely her fault. We were rude to her, and it was our loss - we missed out on what was probably a lovely set.
Father John, on the other hand, offered lots of sardonic stage banter, danced like a fool, and mugged for cell phone pictures, even sticking his nose right into some fans' lenses and, in one instance, taking the phone out of the owner's hands to shoot a closeup of his own tonsils as he sang. It was pure goofy fun and solid music, and we were all totally engaged from the moment he took the stage.
He performed every song of his album Fear Fun. I bought the album at his Terminal West show and so was much more familiar with the songs last night than I was during last year's show, and it sounded like most of the rest of the audience were too, judging by the amount of singing along to the songs.
Live, many of his songs have more of a rockabilly or even Bakersfield sound than on record, and his fine touring band provided some tasty guitar licks in between verses. Father John occasionally played some acoustic guitar, but most of the time he just sang while flailing around the stage.
He saved the best-known song from Fear Fun, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, for the end of the set, performing it with an intensity and enthusiasm not even hinted at in the recorded version.
During part of his earlier banter, he recalled the time he performed at The Tabernacle as drummer for Fleet Foxes, and led the audience there in the Atlanta Braves war chant (which, of course, is lifted from the Florida State war chant), and how he later got chastised about that for some reason. So of course, at the end of the set, the audience called for an encore by using the war chant. Soon, Father John appeared back on stage, playing drums along with the chant, before performing a new song alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar.
The new song was followed by the rest of his band joining him on stage for a completely faithful cover of The Beatles' Happiness Is A Warm Gun, complete with all of its non sequiter verses (i.e., the "I need a fix" and "Mother Superior jump the gun" segments) and Father John nailing the John Lennon falsetto part at the end, and reminding us just how relevant the satirical 1968 song is to our current political debate about gun control.
After one more new song, the band called it a night and left, and the audience, satisfied, slowly trickled out of the venue.