I was sitting at my computer, experiencing one of the many downsides of being underemployed. Tickets for the sold-out Father John Misty concerts were going for well over $100 on Craigslist and Stubhub, and there weren’t many left. Then I saw the event post: Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, would be giving a short performance/interview at The Greene Space as part of the WNYC Soundcheck podcast on February 11th, for just $10.
We were somehow the first people ushered into the small studio space, and my boyfriend and I grabbed one of the few chairs in the room. My seat ended up being about five feet away from Tillman, which was amazing yet unsettling. I could hear his voice without the microphone, and see the tiny banana decal on his black velvet blazer. I was also nervous he might look directly at us, and when he walked past to step onstage, I worried I might trip him so tucked my feet under my chair.
The host John Schaefer introduced the show, and described the new Father John Misty album, I Love You, Honeybear, as a lush but subversive record with lacerating lyrics. Naturally, Tillman deadpanned “Prepare to subversively lacerated,” before playing the record’s title track.
When asked questions between songs, he wavered between hostile and conversational. He grimaced when Schaefer mentioned similarities between “I Love You, Honeybear” and Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and cut off a question related to a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote by stating he couldn’t read. But when asked about the creation of his album, Tillman explained, “I think it was difficult just given the subject matter, which was bordering dangerously close to sentimentality… I think to some extent I was doing some kind of bartering, where I was like, I’ll let you be this exposed if you let me cloak this in impenetrable layers of goo.”
Later in the set, Schaefer talked about the band’s upcoming concerts and Tillman, suddenly friendly, rested his head on the host’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for my weird answers earlier,” he apologized, gazing at him with endearing puppy-dog eyes.
They discussed psychedelics before he launched into the set’s most animated performance, “The Ideal Husband.” The heels of scuffed tan boots twisted under his lanky frame as he sashayed his hips side to side and spun. During the bridge, he stepped off the stage, knocking the mic stand to my feet, and threw himself on my boyfriend’s shoulder. “I came by at seven in the morning,” he shouted, climbing over seats to embrace others. The woman next to us widened her eyes in fear as the guitar slung across his back came dangerously close to her face. “Seven in the morning, seven in the morning…” He picked up the mic stand and dropped it back into place, the song ending with its thud onstage.
Luckily, both the audience and artist were uninjured. Tillman found an empty chair in the first row to sing the final song, “Bored In The USA.” “Can I boo myself from here?” he wondered between lyrics. There was no recorded laugh track in this rendition of the song and he seemed to pause slightly where it should have been, then shrug when the audience didn’t provide it. The song was strange, maybe too exposed, without it. He blew out a lighter held up from the second row, and the set ended.
“Go forth and have a productive day,” Tillman told the crowd. I didn’t really have anything productive to do, but I didn’t care. Turns out the upside of being underemployed is you don’t have to make up any excuses to see Father John Misty at noon on a weekday.
If you didn’t make it to the soundcheck, the full performance is up on Livestream and YouTube. Check it out: