Father John Misty goes for grandeur in many aspects of his music — highly detailed lyrics, liner notes the length of a novel and animated cartoons for an entire album — but his solo, acoustic performance Friday night at Upland Brewing Co. showed an entirely different side to him and his music.
The intimate performance by the singer-songwriter, whose real name is Joshua Tillman, at Upland's outdoor amphitheater was the headlining musical act for Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence.
The show was also Tillman’s first stop on his world tour, and the only scheduled solo show on the tour, to promote his upcoming album “God’s Favorite Customer”.
Tillman sang songs from all three of his previous albums, as well as new singles from the upcoming album, set to release June 1.
He was chosen for the Vonnegut festival because he is a noted fan of the Hoosier author, and his songwriting shares Vonnegut’s satirical style and critical perspective on the world.
“They both write about how dumb and stupid the world is because they think we could do better,” said Joe Hiland, communications specialist for festival organizers the Arts and Humanities Council. “We could do better people.”
He stood glowing ethereally in the colored lights against the darkness of the sky, its softness in complete opposition to the nihilism dripping from his lyrics and biting comments to the crowd.
Tillman told the audience his favorite Vonnegut novel is “Slapstick,” even after making fun of people whose favorite Vonnegut novel is “Slapstick.”
“A story equally sad and stupid,” Tillman said after finishing his new single “Mr. Tillman” and before launching into “Total Entertainment Forever.” “One of my favorite Vonnegut traits.”
In between songs he told stories of his stint as a drummer for a Christian hardcore band, and of his relationship with Damien Jurado, a singer-songwriter from Seattle, who played the stage before Tillman.
Jurado is currently signed to Bloomington label Secretly Canadian.
Bloomington is where the two are reuniting after almost a decade apart, Jurado said.
Tillman credited Jurado for being the reason he was performing at all. A young Tillman drove all the way from Maryland to Seattle to meet Jurado and give him his CD, leading to an extensive touring relationship between the two, Jurado said.
During his early evening set, Jurado told the crowd about being there for Tillman’s first time smoking marijuana and getting his first tattoo.
Tillman gave him dramatic, ironic thumbs-up from the back of the crowd with each embarrassing tidbit Jurado shared about Tillman.
“It’s like I’m giving you a wake, Josh,” Jurado said as he recounted their history and spoke his praises of Tillman. “There isn’t another songwriter of our time that writes like that."
The crowd seemed to be deeply listening to Tillman’s words as he sang, hushing others in the crowd who spoke during the songs.
Tillman, like Vonnegut, often portrays scenarios of the apocalypse and deterioration of humanity.
“Father John Misty, he shares the same tragic common vision and black humor that is Vonnegut’s trademark,” said festival organizer Ed Comentale, director of the Arts and Humanities Council. “I think that ultimately, Kurt Vonnegut and Father John Misty are really humane and really sympathetic people, but they filter that through a real acerbic wit. They couch their sympathy and their sentimentalism in a darkness.”
“Who will critique them once he’s left?” Tillman sang, perhaps of himself, in “Ballad of Dying Man."
Tillman commented to the crowd about how depressing it was that in the scope of the universe and all time, hardly anyone will have heard about Father John Misty.
Saturday’s music acts include Noname, Waxahatchee and the Oh Sees.
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