Show Review: Father John Misty 08/23 (ACL Taping)

Another week, another trip to the Moody Theater for me. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way– when it comes to touring acts, there really is no better venue in this town to catch a big name. Tuesday night, a rather large name, or perhaps a man with a rather large mouth, came to our city to tape an episode of Austin City Limits. With all the buzz around Father John Misty and his latest album, Pure Comedy, I was interested to see what the character that Josh Tillman plays would have in store for a taping. What we got was a dialed in performance from a personae.

Read past the jump to get my full thoughts on the show.

I caught Father John Misty the last time he was in Austin at Stubb’s when he was touring with I Love You, Honeybear.While that performance was good and I enjoyed that last release far more than the most recent album, I left the venue with a bit of an obvious revelation — Father John Misty doesn’t craft music that makes you feel particularly good. Sure, the arrangements are melodic and pretty, but those lyrics are hyper-self aware and sardonic and biting. While this kind of music is important, especially in our absurd modern times, with the release of this new album, I found myself pushing away the new material. It was just a little too tired, a little too much a regurgitation of the daily news that we’re all bombarded with, without much of a intellectual comment on it other than disdain.

My thoughts on the new album aside, I tried to go into Tuesday’s performance with an open mind– perhaps Father John Misty and crew would meld together new and old material, letting the bouncy and more rock driven music of Fear Fun and I Love You, Honeybear provide a bit of balance to the weighty ballads of Pure Comedy. Before the taping started, I noticed that in addition to the typical band set up, there were about a dozen extra chairs set up on the corner of the stage for a full string and horn section. The lights dimmed, we were told to put our phones away (one of the reasons I love tapings, fuck phones at shows!!!) and the band filed on stage. Father John Misty came last, hesitating a moment after the rest of the crew filed on stage.

Donning a suit jacket over a white button up, with the last three buttons left undone and tucked into dark jeans, he sauntered on to the stage in his ridiculous loafer-slippers without socks on, slicking back his already pressed back hair and waving to his adoring fans. A full on character, he began the set with the title track off his new album and we were underway. Hips swaying sauntering side steps left and right, unlike other artists who seem to ignore the large television cameras just off the edge of the stage, FJM lapped it up, dropping to his knees in front of the cameras and writhing a bit around on the floor. If there’s one thing about this artist that is for sure is that the live act is a spectacle.

Well, a spectacle, until it grows old after the first few tracks. The same personae we all came to be in awe of after his somewhat viral performance of “Bored in the USA” on late night TV, just gets old after three long ballads of rambling trite. It’s the same sort of empty feeling you get after you either read or participate in politics on social media– you feel somewhat connected to an emotion, or person, but nothing actually comes of it, no cathartic release whatsoever. It’s criticism without solution.

The orchestral accompaniment served to spice up these ballads somewhat, their lovely addition making the music sound quite delicate and beautiful, but Father John Misty didn’t stray far from the new album. Of the set, only four were taken from the sophomore record and none from the debut album, which proved for a real lack in variety in the songs that we heard. After the thirteen minute, self aware of its length, diatribe of “Leaving LA” the folks up in the balcony seemed restless, and there was a lot of motion towards the exits before the track had run its course. While Father John Misty did comment on the length of the track both after it was over and in his lyrics, he dove right into the next all too similar song from the new album.

“Holy Shit” and “I Love You, Honeybear” were met with the most praise and excitement. The orchestral arrangements on this tracks in the live setting were true highlights of the night. But in the night filled with new material, I’ll hold a mirror up to the personae that attempts to hold a mirror up to his audiences and we can all drown in solipsism via his lyrics:

“I’m beginning to begin to see the end
Of how it all goes down between me and them
Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe
Plays as they all jump ship, “I used to like this guy
This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die.”

All in all, I fell back on the same feeling that I had the last time I saw Father John Misty– it’s interesting, but lacking real substance. For me, that’s not what music is about. Perhaps you’ll feel differently; be sure to catch this performance when it airs on the next season of Austin City Limits.

One comment

  • Nice write up, Nicole. I felt the same exact way after watching the live-stream. It all felt very forced, dripping with pretension.

    There’s no doubt he’s talented. That voice is absolutely sublime alone, and paired with the orchestral accompaniment it took the musical performance to new heights. Like you said though, after a few songs the tone just makes you feel like shit and who really wants to sit through that in times like these?

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