Play, Misty, for me

Josh Till­man rolls out his lush songs with a know­ing razzmatazz, writes Kitty Em­pire

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Fa­ther John Misty Ham­mer­smith Apollo, Lon­don W6

If you have ever con­cluded that your pre­cious life was be­ing played out in an ab­sur­dist dystopia, you are not alone. Amer­i­can folk-rock mu­si­cian Fa­ther John Misty’s third al­bum,

Pure Com­edy , re­leased last April, is all about us “de­mented mon­keys” who live in a sys­tem only “a mad­man would con­ceive”.

There are scraps of com­fort, though, de­clared and im­plied. There is sweet, sweet mu­sic. Live and on record, Misty’s voice is clear and true, his tunes nag­ging and lush. “Each other’s all we’ve got,” runs the last line of the ti­tle track, de­liv­ered tonight, the sec­ond of two nights at this sto­ried Lon­don venue, with a kind of off­hand em­pha­sis, to pro­fuse cheers.

The tour of this com­pli­cated al­bum is full of razzmatazz and balm: strings, brass and pedal steel ac­com­pany Misty’s large band. Pi­anist Jon Tit­ter­ing­ton plays it tin­kly or honky-tonk by turns on songs such as Noth­ing Good Ever Hap­pens at the God­damn Thirsty Crow, while pedal-steel player David Van­dervelde bumps up the coun­try quo­tient. The al­bum’s mis­an­thropic, Hierony­mous Bosch-like cover art is writ large on the back­drop; you can also buy leg­gings of it from the merch stand. Glit­ter can­nons are de­ployed early in the set. One goes off af­ter a mas­sive crescendo on Things It Would Have Been Help­ful to Know Be­fore the Rev­o­lu­tion, prompt­ing Misty to pon­der an un­fin­ished joke about blow­ing one’s load too early.

Misty – Josh Till­man to the im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties – has al­ways dripped self-aware­ness. Pre­vi­ous tours have con­tained be­tween-song analy­ses of how per­for­mances work. On these big­ger stages, how­ever, Misty talks less and hams it up even more, re­call­ing Jarvis Cocker’s de­con­struc­tions of how a trans­ported, hip-swiv­el­ling lead singer should be­have. (“I wanted to be au­then­ti­cally bo­gus rather than bo­gusly au­then­tic,” Till­man told the

New Yorker ear­lier this year.) The orig­i­nal vi­sion for this tour in­volved “ther­a­pist pup­pets” and “gi­ant ba­nanapeel cos­tumes” and the band in an or­ches­tra pit.

You don’t re­ally leave feel­ing par­tic­u­larly short-changed, though, af­ter a two-hour run through the high­lights of Misty’s three al­bums. The love songs from his break­through record, I Love You, Honey­bear (2015) flour­ish un­der these gen­er­ous ar­range­ments. When You’re Smil­ing and Astride Me is full of ec­static “oh”s, and Till­man falls to his knees at the song’s close, skew­ered by the mean­ing of love: to “truly see and be seen”.

The only down­side here is that the emo­tional, over­think­ing 21st-cen­tury bard strut­ting and fret­ting his two hours on the stage can be a com­plex, Mar­mitey char­ac­ter off it. A story broke on the day of this gig about a Misty Face­book post, sub­se­quently deleted, dis­avow­ing the mod­ern men­ace of mu­sic blog­gers. It was widely in­ter­preted as a mis­chievous dig at Tay­lor Swift, cur­rently un­der fire af­ter her lawyers is­sued a writ to a mi­nor mu­sic blog­ger who crit­i­cised her fail­ure to dis­own the far-right lean­ing sec­tion of her fan­base.

Misty has form here, hav­ing imag­ined “bed­ding Tay­lor Swift ev­ery night in­side the Ocu­lus Rift ”, on To­tal En­ter­tain­ment For­ever, a song about our ad­dic­tion to tech. Calling out pop stars for their heavy-handed tac­tics is, clearly, fair game. But you could also ar­gue that per­sis­tently trolling Swift is also a ques­tion­able blood­sport, in­dulged in by a cer­tain kind of en­ti­tled male star; the kind that im­per­ils the sym­pa­thy his com­pas­sion and wit have earned him.

Richard Isaac/Rex/Shut­ter­stock

‘An over­think­ing 21st-cen­tury bard’: Josh Till­man, AKA Fa­ther John Misty, at the Ham­mer­smith Apollo.

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