Cult of personalities
Father John Misty, Corb Lund and Ian Tyson at Lansdowne Park
It was a night of multiple personalities on the CityFolk stage on Saturday, with the coupling of hurtin’ Albertan Corb Lund and country legend Ian Tyson, before Father John Misty brought a few split personalities of his own.
The former Josh Tillman has been making mighty waves since leaving dreamy indie-folkies Fleet Foxes, ditching his birth name and adopting the persona of the wild-eyed Laurel Canyon rocker.
Tillman, whose third album, Pure Comedy, has won critical acclaim for its wordy ruminations on life and death, religion, politics and the environment, is clearly a man with plenty to say.
Opening with the title track from Pure Comedy, Tillman dove right into his thoughts on his evangelical upbringing, which he eventually rejected to become the selfdescribed “bearded weirdo” that appeared onstage Saturday.
“Oh, their religions are the best / They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed And they get terribly upset when you question their sacred texts /
Written by woman-hating epileptics.”
Yes, the stream of consciousness songcraft, like a latter-day Kerouac on a Benzedrine binge, can take a little getting used to.
As Tillman revealed in a recent late night talk show, he had considered making his album into a “fullblown musical,” but freaked out in the middle of a flight when his prospective choreographer started inquiring about how to depict the scene “where the Girl Scouts assault Mother Nature.”
But Father John Misty had no need for the added theatrics in his Ottawa debut Saturday. Strutting around with a stage swagger that fell somewhere between Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, with an occasional James Brown-esque leap to his knees, he came across like a modern age protest singer steeped in irony with hipster jeans.
On Total Entertainment Forever he fantasized of “bedding Taylor Swift” — a lyric that earned him a fair amount of trouble, but also drew some welcome attention — when it was released as a single this summer.
His lyrical calisthenics were at their free-flowing peak on Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution and Ballad of the Dying Man, but turned positively playful on the cheeky Nancy From Now On, from his debut Fear Fun.
His Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins) demanded every ounce of attention from the crowd and he eventually had to “check in” with the crowd to ensure they were still following along.
The rocking Hollywood Cemetery Forever, another excellent cut from his debut, came as a bit of a reward for the fans who just wanted to rock along.
With so much to say in song, Misty didn’t have much in the way of banter, but appeared to have his mind blown mid-set when he realized “the guy on stage” before him playing Four Strong Winds was the same guy, Ian Tyson, who wrote the song. “Whoa,” he marvelled. Fans who may have just been introduced to Father John Misty may have had a similar reaction.
While it was Father John Misty who advertised “Pure Comedy,” it was the all-star Alberta duo of Ian Tyson and Corb Lund that brought it, with a charming hour-long set of back-and-forth banter and some truly hilarious tall tales.
“Corb’s dad was a vet and a good one. He rode broncos. He didn’t ride them very well, but he was a good vet,” joked Tyson introducing M.C. Horses.
Tyson’s weathered voice struck a stark contrast to Lund’s fresh-faced twang, but it was his humour that shone through as he had the crowd in stitches, introducing Someday Soon as “a song that’s been real good to me It’s paid a lot of alimony and bought me a few horses.”
And the pair may have invented their own country genre along the way.
“I’ve been playing on the fringes of country and western for many years,” said Lund. “Sometimes it’s called outsider country, they used to call it outlaw country. Now they call it Americana. But we have our own subgenre called agricultural tragic or agri-trag.”
Whatever it was called, it was fantastic, with the two hanging around for extra time to sing out on Four Strong Winds, and making a new fan of Father John Misty while they were at it.
CityFolk concludes Sunday with Rodriguez headlining.