Published Feb 17, 2015It's a tale as old as time: a drummer for a revered folk rock band, who also moonlights as a singer-songwriter, takes some psychedelics, leaves said projects, reinvents himself as a hippie/nomad/Casanova/rockstar, releases a critically acclaimed album, tours, falls in love and releases another hit record.
Okay, so maybe the story of Josh Tillman isn't necessarily archetypal at this point, but rarely has someone made such a dramatic journey from pounding the skins — as Tillman did with Fleet Foxes — to the front of the stage since the likes of Dave Grohl or Phil Collins. And "dramatic" it is, as a huge part of Misty's appeal — aside from textured tunes that blend psychedelia, folk, and rock — is the singer's theatrical presence, with a persona that simultaneously channels a jaded (but successful) stand-up comic and a sexed-up pole dancer.
His recently released sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear, makes it clear that things are different now: since the release of his Father John Misty debut, Fear Fun, in 2012, Tillman has fallen in love and married, and this change in lifestyle has informed both his sound and live performances. Now sober, there's a new sense of focus in Tillman's presence. He still gyrates around the stage, jumps on the drum kit and lobs hilarious retorts at the crowd every time someone shouts at him between songs, but he does so now with a newfound sense of purpose.
Tillman's got a powerful set of pipes and he wasn't afraid to use them, putting his all into every single moment, whether singing passionately on the as-sexy-as-it-sounds "When You're Smiling and Astride Me" or shouting about being "The Ideal Husband." Even older cuts like alt-country drug trip "I'm Writing a Novel" and the contemplative, bursting "Only Son of a Ladies' Man" were delivered with aplomb. But, despite Tillman's skill, he was by no means the only star of the night. His backing sextet is a crack team of musicians, able to both recreate the lush, orchestral rock arrangements of Honeybear without a hitch and seamlessly transition into the folksy Americana and alt-country of Fear Fun, all while keeping up with the singer's exuberant spirit. Of note was the drummer, a key player at the back of the stage whose fills were executed perfectly, and who added the perfect amount of rhythmic backbone that was still appreciated despite the expansive front-end instrumentation.
Through the musical and performative excellence, there was still the feeling — as is normal for Misty — that the show was always a second away from exploding at the seams: several times per song, a guitar tech would frantically run onstage to fix the various patch cords that would inevitably get tangled thanks to Tillman's theatrics. But, in typical Misty showman fashion, Tillman completely turned it around by making light of the appearances, transforming the tech — Mike — into a crowd sensation, whose later appearances almost threatened to upstage Tillman himself. Tillman's mastery over the crowd was never more apparent than in those moments, when he managed to diffuse something that threatened the illusion of performance by shining a spotlight on it; this subversion of norms is what endeared him to the public in the first place.
The main set ended with "Holy Shit," in which a Tillman rattles off contemporary phenomena a la "We Didn't Start the Fire," but with an underlying sense of existential crisis, with only his acoustic guitar and a jaunty keyboard for additional accompaniment. The performance was enrapturing enough, until the song transformed for the modulated third verse as the band came in and Tillman hopped into the crowd. A three-song encore included a tribute to local legend Leonard Cohen in the form of cover "I'm Your Man," and finished off with ode to love "Every Man Needs a Companion."
Despite the drastic changes in his life over the last few years, Tillman is still a charmer who knows himself incredibly well, and he — and his standout band — kept their hot streak going despite the chilly weather.