Musically, it is hard to fault Father John Misty’s performance at the O2 Academy.
Touring off the back of last year’s I Love You Honeybear album, he has seen his star rise to the extent that the gig had to be moved from the smaller O2 ABC venue. And that’s understandable, the aforementioned album being a work of true magnificence. In fact it’s one of the best records I’ve heard over the last few years. Even at it’s most overwrought and bombastic, it remains a deeply personal love-letter to his wife, using some of the most private aspects of their relationship to conjure up some beautiful, heart-rending, passionate moments.
Sadly, everything mentioned above seemed to vanish when it came to the live setting. Gone was the intimacy, the fragility, the insecurity. What we got instead was self-assurance bordering on grandiose, passion replaced by pomposity. In itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the overwhelming majority of the biggest stars in music have a healthy dose of ego. I guess you have to keep plugging away in the business. However, given the material, I just felt the theatrics and showmanship only served to detract from some truly stunning music.
And it’s such a shame because when we got moments like ‘I Went to the Store One Day’ it hits home what a talent Josh Tillman (to give the good Father his Sunday name) is. Faultless vocally, a beautifully crafted song that brought the incessant chatter from the back of the venue to a stop for once. It was a breathtaking three minutes, as was the frenetic, frenzied version of ‘The Ideal Husband’. But too often it seemed to be about Tillman running his fingers through his hair, pulling a rock star shape, silhouetted against the lighting and the dry ice and – for those that have seen Silence of the Lambs – doing a Buffalo Bill style dance.
It’s possible I’m being picky, and I’m sure I’m in the minority here. The show definitely seemed to go down a storm with the crowd. Well, I say the crowd, what I mean here is the majority of the crowd. This was yet another example of a gig that people seemed to want to be seen at. Rather than listen to music though, they decided it was the perfect chance to catch up with their mates. I don’t feel that gigs should be silent, but there’s a difference between a comment about the performance to your pal and a conversation that lasts two songs at full volume about what you’ve been up to for the last fortnight. Save that for the pub before or after. People haven’t paid to listen to you.
It’s strange reading this back, because it sounds a little like I had a truly terrible time. That wasn’t the case, but I do think that next time he plays I may just stay home and stick the album on.
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