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Father John Mystifies Peabody Opera House

Josh+Tillman%2C+better+known+as+Father+John+Misty+%28front%29%2C+serenades+an+attentive+crowd.+
Josh Tillman, better known as Father John Misty (front), serenades an attentive crowd.

Josh Tillman, better known as Father John Misty (front), serenades an attentive crowd.

Tom Bergen

Tom Bergen

Josh Tillman, better known as Father John Misty (front), serenades an attentive crowd.

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Not many artists have a reputation that precedes them in the way that Father John Misty’s does. The countless interviews, sarcastic lyrics and apathetic tendencies of his outwardly-displayed persona build this aura of a “self-loving indie god” long before he ever takes the stage in any given city. Going into the Peabody Opera House on Friday, Sept. 22, many St. Louis fans had that exact expectation. Father John Misty, the stage name of Josh Tillman, would take the stage, make some witty remarks on today’s society interspersed with his beautifully-crafted, vintage-tinged indie, and that would be the extent of the show.

The Peabody sat filled with a looming presence of anticipation for the concert. Would Tillman be able to keep the large room engaged, or would the size of the venue and stage swallow up his performance? The latter happened to opener Weyes Blood, whose somber sound was too mellow to capture the audience. The opening track found singer Natalie Mering singing alone on stage, an incredibly bold move. Though choice garnered the attention it was probably meant to, the intrigue seemed to diminish when the rest of the band joined her. With a voice reminiscent of other ambient-orchestral groups such as Daughter and London Grammar, the Achilles’ heel of the group was the repetitive nature of their set. Each song bled together, outweighing the credibility built with moves such as the opening song and a dystopian jam on piano at the end of the set in terms of what stuck with fans post-set.

After the intrigue that was Weyes Blood’s set, the uncertainty around what exactly Father John Misty’s set would include grew by the minute as the stage was being prepared. The Opera House was not sold out, but all in attendance seemed to know that whatever was about to occur would be memorable, for better or worse. As soon as the music started, however, it was obvious that the set was going to go in the books for all the right reasons.

Opening with the title track from his 2017 album, “Pure Comedy,” Tillman stood on the stage, crooning his commentary on religion and politics with one hand in his suit coat pocket. Somehow, however, his commentary transformed from a pretentious artist pointing out the flaws of society to insight offered from a position of genuinity. This societal insight continued into “Total Entertainment Forever,” a track that garnered a media frenzy due to a complete misunderstanding of its line, “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift.” Rather than cover the lyrical content that describes a technologically driven dystopia, many music critics and fans could not get themselves past discussion of the opening line. “Entertainment” eased into the triple punch of “Ballad of the Dying Man,” “Nancy From Now On” and “Chateau Lobby #4,” a triple play of tracks from all three of his albums that would be reserved for an encore by most artists.  

Just a handful of tracks into his set, Tillman established himself as a force to be reckoned with. His voice sounded more full and booming than on his albums, as if he had been restraining himself while recording. Softer songs such as “Ballad of the Dying Man” and “Bored in the USA” benefitted greatly from this unleashing of sound, with Tillman’s voice filling the Opera House that was filled just an hour earlier with uncertainty that he could do such a feat.

Not only did Tillman’s voice sound phenomenal, but he knows how to masterfully perform. The setlist was crafted to perfection, ebbing and flowing with the right amount of slower-paced songs before hitting mini-crescendos of controlled chaos on tracks such as “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” All of these hills and valleys led up to the main-set closer “I Love You, Honeybear,” which seemed to resolve all of the tension built throughout the set.

The lighting design increased the atmosphere tenfold. A minimal stage allowed for bright hues of reds and pinks, purples and blues, and everything in between to shine before Tillman and his backing band. When not playing his acoustic guitar, Tillman flowed across the stage with effortless ease. His lanky manner seemed to almost benefit his dance moves that contorted his body in a variety of ways.

Instead of the show that many were expecting, Tillman led his band in a beautiful display of how to masterfully capture a room while baring oneself in a surprisingly vulnerable way. It was as if once the cameras of Rolling Stone and The New Yorker turned away, Tillman lost much of the persona that he is so often shrouded in, until it is just him, a guitar, and a few thousand fans in awe of what may become the next biggest name in rock and roll. He already has the moves for the role.

 

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Father John Mystifies Peabody Opera House