Father John Misty in Vicar Street, 28 May 2018
God’s favourite customer may be the most popular person in this country to carry the title Father right now, and boy does he know what to do with that. There’s a bit towards the end of the set where, smack bang in the midpoint of Pure Comedy, Mr Tillman drops the line describing the way a certain variety of people “get terribly upset/ When you question their sacred texts/ Written by woman-hating epileptics…” before taking a dramatic pause for effect.
The backing band drops away to a prone silence, and the audience lets out a mighty cheer in response to the wry sacrilegiousness of it all. On that, perfectly timed to rise with the swell of voices, that the band comes rocking back in for the mighty, verging on psychedelic, build up to the song’s finale.
It feels oddly like a moment of some revelation.
Father John Misty may or may not be aware of the recent referendum that took place in this country and the ongoing battle towards a modern secular state with a clearly separate church and state. Regardless, the relevance of his work has a real edge to it for the Irish audience who’ve turned out to see him for the first of three nights in Vicar Street. A mad obsession with the relentless myth of religion and an unrelenting cynicism towards any kind of established authority run parallel in his work.
Beyond Misty’s cool demeanour and ironic detachment there’s also a kind of preoccupation with religion and its imagery. The lyrics invoke God, Jesus, meditations on the afterlife, and the constant cognitive dissonance of life being pointless verses the idea that the things people put their faith in – fame, music, love – have some kind of spiritual point.
In order words, it’s a hell of a sermon, and tonight in Vicar Street Father John Misty delivers it with ringing aplomb. Or mostly he does. Like any good mass there comes a point where the things become a little rote, attentions waver, feet shuffle and watches are consulted. But more on that later.
In the early part of the set Misty is like a man possessed with a divine knowledge of how to commune with his flock. He works the stage with an offhand theatricality, acting out the apotheosis of cool in a slimfitted suit, open shirt, full beard and tinted shades. He handles an early flurry of crowd pleasers like the jaunty Chateau Lobby #4 and the languid Only Son of A Ladiesman with such casualness you’d think he was doing no more than tuning up his guitar and practicing his vocal chords in his own home.
A real key to the force of the performance tonight is down to the backing band – in particular the three-piece brass section that provides a real lift to proceedings, elevating even the mopeyest, folksiest of tunes to a level of inflated grandness that would have Frank Sinatra nodding his head in approval.
Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution comes as an early highlight of this dynamic. The band coalesce in full force behind Misty as he moans and croons about the sorry state of the world in a voice so silky an sumptuous you’d buy pretty much anything it was selling.
By the time he gets around to Bored in The USA the show has climbed to its massive peak, and the violent force of behind the words starts to really break through. The lyric which goes “Save me president Jesus” on the record, is sung tonight as “Save me President… Anybody” with a disarming emotional reality breaking though an otherwise polished vocal delivery. For a moment is seems less like this perfect cool performance, and more like the man up on stage crying out for help from somebody, anybody – desperate and not particularly expecting a response.
It’s a mighty sermon. The flip side is that there are many moments of the set that don’t quite ring as true as this one – and for all the undeniably great numbers, there’s a few interludes that dip into a slightly boring, unelectrifying samesishness.
After a sweeping sendoff with the rousing Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings and the piercing melancholy of I Love You, Honeybear, Misty and band return for an encore that doesn’t quite live up to what came before. By the time the band have gotten around to an indulgent fourth encore number, it’s more than time enough for home.
But you can’t have Father John Misty without the shameless self-indulgence. He’s pushed that particular field of enquiry so far he’s come out the far side, and he brings a nice big helping of that along with him tonight. And when it works, there’s no arguing with that.