Austin City Limits tapings are some of the best shows you can experience in the music capital of Texas. There is no opening act, the use of cell phones is prohibited, and more often than not, the artist makes the performance special in some way. For his ACL debut, Josh Tillman, better known by his persona, Father John Misty, included a 13-piece chamber ensemble made up of local Austin musicians to fill in all the arrangements rampant on his newest album, Pure Comedy. While Tillman already has a penchant for melodramatic movements on stage during a regular show, the addition of television cameras seemed to encourage the lanky singer to kick it up a notch, or ten. Regularly falling to his knees, pantomiming along to lyrics and occasionally falling down, Tillman was quite the showman.
The night’s set made good use of the additional musicians and was therefore primarily made up of songs from Pure Comedy and a smattering of songs from I Love You, Honeybear. The beginning of the show started with the first four sequential songs from Pure Comedy; “Pure Comedy,” “Total Entertainment Forever,” “Things it Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” and “Ballad of the Dying Man”, and just when fans started thinking that it was going to just be a total album play through, the band launched into “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” followed by “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” both from I Love You, Honeybear. One of the highlights of the night came when the rest of the band vacated the stage leaving only Tillman and the strings to perform the thirteen minute “Leaving LA”, a ballad in which Tillman sings about the irony surrounding his success and lays bare the pretense that is prevalent in the music business, himself included. This further illustrated the nature of Tillman’s songwriting. They are songs that give an outline of personal experiences with brief glimpses of his true self. “This is the only TV show you could get away with doing that song on,” he wisecracked afterwards. After closing the set with the title track from I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman and Co. returned to the stage where Tillman jokingly started “Leaving LA” again stating he had messed it up the first time before encoring with “Holy Shit.”
It’s no surprise that the pretentiousness and sardonic songwriting of Father John Misty creates as much indignation as it does devotion, however, Tillman’s fan base continues to grow with each new release. Those lucky enough to be in attendance for the taping were treated to a show that they won’t soon stop talking about. The only disappointment of the night was that the breakthrough debut, Fear Fun, was completely ignored.
Photo by Scott Newton courtesy of ACL TV.