A sold out show is an accomplishment, regardless of genre or level of fame. For Father John Misty, two back-to-back sell outs at The Wiltern are a sign of something more, as his rise in popularity has placed his name on more festival posters and Spotify playlists than most Top 40 acts.
His legions of fans are devoted in a way Elvis’ was, hanging on every hip shake and feigned tumble to the ground. Even the men in the audience can’t help but swoon as he waves his disaffected charms side to side. His music has, to date, been both enlightening and prescriptive, putting a very specific set of feelings into beautiful prose, accompanied by easy-to-swallow music played skillfully both on record and in the live arena. But on stage, the point gets driven much further, as Misty is able to accentuate exactly what joke he fines funniest within his lyrics.
Given his slim frame, bushy beard, and long hair, comparisons to Jim Morrison are obvious, but instead of droning through elongated versions of his own poetry, Misty gets to the point and is sure to accentuate it along the way. It helps that his band seems custom built for his brand of rock and roll, ready to solo or jam while Misty is busy, but immediately positioned back into the swing of things once there is work to do. This was most evident during “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” when their frontman threw his acoustic guitar offstage, turned into an evangelical preacher during the song’s final moments, and walked a mud hole in the stage while his band rocked it dry.
Things hit peak Misty when, during “Bored in the U.S.A.”, he grabbed a fan’s phone that was mid recording and started filming his own performance, pointing it back at the crowd. After the piece ended, he said “I hate to be that guy, but can we do it again?” and cued up the song once more. He couldn’t hold it together for more than two lines, but it was worth it. He also jokingly let the crowd know that anyone coming back the next night can look forward to the same “canned banter.”
Misty’s biggest question mark is intent. As with most performers, knowing why they write, sing, and act the way they do is what brings us closer to them as people and artists. His public person is essentially one of an aloof clown, as quick to bag on himself as anyone else, maybe quicker even, to avoid criticism. But during his performances, each moment’s weight obviously gets to him, as he’ll lose himself in a verse, close his eyes, forget to strum, and for that brief moment, it feels as if we’re seeing the real Joshua Tillman. It’s not so much that there needs to be something else behind the cynicism and heartbreak, but if what we see is not what’s really real, then the truth might need to be more entertaining. And if another Misty emerges, will current material suffer for it? Would he be able to play half of his latest album in the same carefree way? Until then, this performance showcased exactly why his talents are in high demand, as his charisma and talent are top tier.
Father John Misty is a tough nut to crack. On one hand, taken at his word (and work), the jaded and intellectual romantic that croons on I Love You, Honeybear would be a breath of fresh air in an industry obsessed with carefully crafted public personas. On the other hand, if it’s all a work, if the whole thing is a carefully crafted version of a version, then how much material is left to mine for the rest of his career? Hopefully he knows how to weave himself out the thematic corner he’s currently painted himself in. Jaded is only attractive for so long, and true long term suffering for the sake of art might make for interesting work but an unsatisfying and potentially tragic life. But if he flips the switch and somehow finds something that resembles happiness/growth/maturity, he may leave a swath of people behind that are not ready for change. Let’s hope the authentic self living within Mister Misty is as prepared for the future as much as his fans are in love with his past.