We've already seen Father John Misty perform in Atlanta several times, at The Masquerade, Terminal West, and Variety Playhouse, but his performance last evening at The Tabernacle was by far the best we've seen yet, a solid set by a natural-born entertainer comfortable with and confident in his material and rapport with the audience.
The opener, a duo called Tess & Dave, resembled nothing so much as a bad Father John parody act, accompanied by a singing mime for some reason.
The mime's biggest applause came when she returned to the stage in a different outfit ("Wow, she changed her clothes!"). Dave did most of the heavy lifting, and they sang to recorded music for the first part of their set, then to their own guitar accompaniment, and finally with some keyboards and and percussion. They danced some, poorly, and reminded me of nothing more than what one might expect from a Father John Misty "tribute" act playing at the Long Beach Marriott. The most surprising thing was that Josh Tillman allowed them to be his opening act.
FJM and company came on stage at 9:00 pm sharp, and as it turns out, both Tess and Dave are a part of his touring band, so that explains that. He started his set right off with Every Man Needs A Companion, followed by Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and had the entire audience right in the palm of his hand for the next 90 minutes or so.
In previous Father John shows, Tillman undermined his own performance with self-effacing stage banter and goofy stage antics. He still danced around like a goofus at times, but he seemed much more focused on playing his music and delivering his songs than in the past, and the result was the best FJM show we've seen yet. The change in his delivery might have been because last night's set was being webcast live by Yahoo Music, although that might just as easily have been call for even more foolishness than before, but it's more likely that Tillman has finally found a connection through his songs with the audience, and is now more than glad to share the musical experience with the crowd.
This isn't to say that the show didn't have its moments of patented Josh Tillman playfulness, and sometimes he seemed aloof and above it all, and at other times as passionate as a Memphis soul singer, and at still other times an excitable rock 'n' roller.
Here's a little sample, part of my very occasional 30 Seconds of . . . video series, of Father John during his song Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow, that gives you an idea of how skillful he was at manipulating the audience.
I didn't keep track, but I think he covered just about every song from his two albums, Fear Fun and I Love You Honeybear. I honestly can't think of anything he didn't play. And there were more fun and sublime moments than I recall, such as getting the audience to contribute the laugh track at the appropriate part of Bored In The USA. or the sing-alongs during Honeybear and When You're Smiling and Astride Me.
For his encore, he came on stage alone and played a lovely unaccompanied version of his ballad I Went To The Store, the most unapologetically romantic song off I Love You Honeybear, but then the band joined him on stage and surprised just about everybody, or at least me, by performing a faithful and scorching cover of Nine Inch Nails' Closer ("I want to fuck you like an animal"), even falling to his knees as he delivered the line "You get me closer to god." As you can imagine, that got the audience going, and he even leaned off the stage to touch the audience and let them touch him (I got to touch his arm and hair).
At the end of all that frenzy, he played a loud, noisy, almost punk version of The Ideal Husband from Honeybear, working the audience up even more, and when the house lights finally came on, Tillman danced on the stage as Drake's hip-hop anthem Legend off of If You're Reading This It's Too Late played over the PA system. He encouraged the audience to dance along too, and when he had all of us dancing, Father John finally left the stage and let the dance party continue on its own.
This is going to be a hard show to top. Father John just set the bar pretty goddamn high.