“Chico: biggest party school; Playboy magazine, 1987,” Josh Tillman languidly drolled as he took to the stage on a pleasantly crowded Sunday evening at the El Rey Theater. Following that brief introduction, the band immediately launched into the title track from the new Father John Misty record I Love You, Honeybear (due out February 10th, via Sub Pop), and the crowd pushed closer together, into the tight quarters at the edge of stage. What followed was a wildly dynamic performance from Tillman and his stellar backing band, that included a generous portion of material from 2012’s fantastic FJM debut Fear Fun, as well as the entirety of the songs from the forthcoming Honeybear. The live setup had the band of multi-instrumentalists often trading musical duties; deftly manning their primary instruments while also playing synth arrangements that perfectly augmented the full, almost orchestral sound.
Tillman, a consummate showman, cavorted his lithe frame across the platform throughout the night, clad in his signature dark suit, arms akimbo, oftentimes throwing his hands skyward, or collapsing to the stage floor. Several times he clambered down from the stage entirely to wade through the crowd crooning and hugging audience members1. The crowd, in turn, was enraptured by the performance, stamping their feet, swaying, and singing along to such hits as “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” and the electronic beat-driven “True Affection.”
The signature wit that pervades Father John Misty’s lyrical prose was in full effect between songs, as well. “You’re gonna hear a lot of shit you don’t know tonight,” he informed the crowd early on. “Or maybe you already have, from pirating it off the Internet.” Tillman’s charmingly acerbic banter kept the audience laughing, as he wryly observed the difficulties of tuning his guitar while attempting to act naturally in front of a crowd. “I’m just going to tune this guitar now, as if its totally normal, and I’m not fucking horrified,” he quipped dryly, before propelling into (my favorite track off of Fear Fun) “Only Son of a Ladies Man,” and then into a stirring rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.”
After a brief moment off stage at the close of their set, the band returned for an rousing encore that included the first single from Honeybear, “Bored in the U.S.A.,” a sarcastic bemoaning of life in a material-laden 21st century. “Is this the part where I get all I ever wanted?” asks Tillman. As the final notes rang out, I thought, “Yeah. I think I did. At least at this show, tonight2.”
1 I did not receive a hug, which stings more than a bit, I don’t mind telling you. I was standing right there, you guys, next to Hug Ground Zero, carefully shaping my body language into the most hug-friendly position I could manage.
2 Except for maybe that hug.