It had been one of those gorgeous Sydney days where the clouds were few and the sun wintery warm. And when I heard of the dreaded hail that was pelting down on Byron Bay, for once I wasn’t quite so jealous.
I was completely excited that, for all the Splendour sideshows around, I was heading to Father John Misty.
J. Tillman, former drummer for Seattle folk outfit Fleet Foxes, has released seven solo albums, but Fear Fun is his first under the moniker Father John Misty, and has been on high rotation in my apartment since its release in May. And boy, is it causing a stir. After realising his depression and struggle with his compositional style (and armed with a stack of herbal help) Tillman left his former self to inevitably find his true voice and that ‘something’ worth singing about.
The stage at Oxford Art Factory was adorned with many an instrument, and first to take to them was Sydney band Melody Nelson. Fronted by Lia Tsamoglou, they comfortably dove straight into their opener, Waiting.
Full of dreamy, 60’s psychedelic sentiments, Lia’s voice echoed as the keys and electric guitars kept up the momentum. But what was most striking was their use of cello, giving the sound a texture and depth I wasn’t expecting.
They floated through the rest of their set, but what was most memorable was their last song, Meditations on the Sun. That Tarantino-like whistle lingered long after they’d left the stage.
By the time Brisbane six-piece Mosman Alder were setting up, the venue had all of a sudden filled out. Weaving to the bar became a skill.
When they did begin, it was the baritone voice of Valdis Valortze that hit me straight away. With Nick Cave and The National tendencies, I was hooked. Mixed in with that soaring violin, their live performance had a full sound and a synchronicity, even without their usual pianist.
Raisin Heart was one of their best, with driving military drums, choral build-up and sudden sparse vocals. It was the considerate layering in all their songs that was so enchanting.
Mosman Alder will also be hitting up Splendour for the second year running. They must be doing something right!
After placing bets on which track was to open, out rang Funtimes in Babylon. It was brilliant. And we’d just begun.
Performing at Splendour this Sunday, his sideshow was completely engaging, partly to do with his cheeky stage banter between songs: thanking Xanax for bringing him here before Only Son of the Ladiesman, and claiming, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t interrupt my hilarious jokes with cheers”.
But what kept the crowd’s eyes drawn to him (particularly the ladies…myself included, I won’t lie) was his captivating presence. And, yes, those swaggering dance moves. During This is Sally Hatchet he was a mixture of a drunk karaoke king owning a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody and that lone guy dancing ‘til his heart’s content up the front…at once absurd, yet still strangely attractive.
Aside from his theatrical maneuvering about the stage, the sound of his band was incredible. Full of the effortless guitar twang and layered hooks, it remained very true to the guts of the record. Songs like Nancy from Now On and I’m Writing a Novel delighted the crowd to no end, and Father John’s voice was rough but superb. That’s what I love about his music – those disparities that seamlessly work together: frank, dark and mysterious, but such fun.
After forgetting lyrics in Now I’m Learning to Love the War and cheekily stating, “this pays for the flights”, the mood was evened out nicely with the earnest Every Man Needs a Companion. He had us all drawn in and we were happily riding with him.
To finish came those constant cymbals, crunching electric guitar and the unruly melisma vocal opening of Hollywood Forever Cemetery Signs. Sung with a beer in hand (and stealing a quick drag of a cigarette before treading it to the stage) that mischievous, cool character of Misty was there summed up. But it was the ending that grabbed me most: a heavy and intense rock-out that felt like we were dragged even deeper into that mindset. My friend turned to me exclaiming, “It feels like someone just took advantage of me!”
As an encore, the band returned with Teepees 1-12, but not before asking for a smooch from someone from the crowd…of course he did.
Please return to our shores again soon, Father John. You’ve preached to the masses and we wait in hope for your next sermon.