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Review: Father John Misty subverts expectations in Dallas

Posted 12:02pm on Saturday, May. 26, 2012

"Take your shirt off!"

Joshua Tillman shaded his eyes, and poker-faced, regarded the direction from which the female cry had come.

"This ... may not be what you think this is," he deadpanned. "I think you may be in for some disappointment." The room filled with laughter, Tillman cracked the briefest of smiles, and Father John Misty, Tillman's latest musical endeavor, launched into Only Son of the Ladies' Man.

While that exchange Friday night at Sons of Hermann Hall was comic relief, it was also illuminating. Father John Misty released a mesmerizing debut, Fear Fun, earlier this month, and many of the stubbornly unclassifiable songs are intense, lyrically potent and full of solemnity. In concert, the 30-year-old Tillman (likely best known for his brief stint drumming for Fleet Foxes) explodes the preconceived notion that his vividly rendered works will be a morose, emotionally draining evening. A night with this band is not what you think it is.

A restless, rangy figure endlessly scanning the crowd, striking poses and, by show's end, throwing himself to the tiny stage and writhing around, Tillman treated tunes like Everyman Needs a Companion or This is Sally Hatchet less as confessionals and more as exorcisms, feeling the full force of the five-piece band behind him.

Between songs, Tillman kept up a steady stream of wisecracks and wry observations -- from riffing on Prince to casually discussing prostitution, he kept the room engaged from start to finish. In fact, seeing him on the intimate Sons stage has likely ruined him for the hundred or so who were fortunate enough to bear witness. I personally can't imagine another Father John Misty performance living up to this one.

The ragged, high-energy feeling was likewise reflected in the stylistic diversity of Father John Misty's songs. Although the music has been pegged as folk, sonic evidence of country, blues, rock and full-on psychedelia were on display Friday. Lyrically, Tillman occasionally evoked Harry Nilsson, of all people, particularly with the caustic Now I'm Learning to Love the War ("Try not to think so much about/The truly staggering amount of oil it takes to make a record"), providing an emotional counterpoint for more soul-searching material like Companion.

After just an hour and 10 songs, Father John Misty bid Dallas farewell. Far from crushing or sobering, it was uplifting, exhilarating. Sure to be one of the year's best nights of music, it was a firm reminder to never judge a book by its cover.

It was a good thing Tillman and his bandmates came ready to play, because opening act Har Mar Superstar (born Sean Tillmann; no relation to Josh, who sat in on drums) very nearly upstaged Father John Misty with his sexually charged, deeply funky performance. A hybrid of Ron Jeremy-like libido and smooth, R&B-infused rock, Har Mar Superstar held the still-arriving audience in the palm of his hand, ordering four shots of Jaegermeister (which someone actually brought to the stage), dancing around in the crowd while the hall's disco ball illuminated the room, and, as is his custom, stripping down to his underwear by the end of his 40-minute set. A gloriously strange, deeply fun start to a night to remember.

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