At one point during his Thursday night show at Slim’s, Father John Misty sat behind his giant iPhone cutout and declared “When I’m here, I’m content.” For much of the first night of his solo “Variety Show” tour, that’s pretty much all he did – create content. No one in music today is as good at onstage banter as Misty, and when announcing on Twitter that the tour would include “way more talking,” I had hopes that he would, well, talk more. Unfortunately, Misty played a fairly pedestrian set without an unusual amount of witty jabs at the crowd.
First, the bad or, more accurately, the “meh.” Look, there’s a reason that Tillman performing as J. Tillman played Cafe du Nord when he came to town after five or six albums, but sold out the Fillmore just a year after releasing Fear Fun. Father John Misty with his band is simply better than J. Tillman by a wide margin. With a band, Tillman’s songs have sonic layers and moods that simply can’t replicated with just a voice and an acoustic guitar. While he’s certainly more talented than most solo performers, he never reaches the greatness he had with his band when I’d seen them at previous shows at Bottom of the Hill and The Fillmore. With the exception of “Nancy From Now On”, which took on a new happy, bouncy tone, many of Tillman’s songs from Fear Fun were fairly bland versions of the originals.
Still, there was plenty to enjoy about the show. Even with a guitar and his voice, Father John Misty can remind me of Waylon Jennings, R. Kelly, and Glenn Campbell in a single song, and god bless him for that. On a new song about a woman who wanted him to choke her (seriously), Tillman took a Waylon-esque rhythm and sang in a surprising conversational style that R. Kelly can do better than anyone. After all that, he launched into an booming chorus that somehow reminded me of some of Glen Campbell’s more grandiose moments. Tillman played several new songs during the set, and all showed great potential for the follow up to Fear Fun.
Misty’s interactions with the crowd displayed his usual quick wit and great sense of humor. An assault of boos actually forced him to stop singing and ad lib a replacement for his “I’m a Dodgers fan” during “Only Son of the Ladies Man”. At the end of “Now I’m Learning To Love the War”, Tillman sang he would “leave behind perfume that won’t decompose,” referring to his perfume, “Innocence, by Misty” (which was for sale at the merch table for $75 a bottle). When admonishing a talking fan during his encore, he quipped, “I’m a giant iPhone, I can hear everything.” Talking is a good thing when Tillman is on stage.
Finally, Tillman made a somewhat bold move by asking comedian Kate Berlant open for this entire tour, and Berlant didn’t disappoint. She had a quick but wonderfully weird and disjointed set that kept the crowd laughing and on its toes the entire time. It was definitely a refreshing way to open an evening of music, and I’d love it if Misty could somehow make this a trend in the industry.
While the show wasn’t as out of the ordinary as I’d hoped, there is still a chance for greatness in this somewhat unique setup. Berlant was a delightful change of pace from the norm, I loved the floral scent of “Innocence” samples that filled Slim’s before the joints got lit, and performing an entire set from behind a giant iPhone cutout was a stroke of genius (I whipped out a phone to take a photo of the setup myself, just to embrace the irony and help create content.) Tillman has developed enough of a reputation with fans to get away with telling a few stories or going on a rant about why the city he’s in sucks, as he has done on previous tours. He could even probably pull off a mini standup set if he wanted to. By adding the “more talking” that I expected, Tillman could take this solo tour from mere “content” into something greater.