FATHER JOHN MISTYHarvest Sun @ Mountford Hall 16/7/16
Steven Patrick Morrissey spouts a lot of nonsense. While few would question his ability as a songwriter, it’s difficult to warm to a tendency to correct people when they label his art as a ‘performance’ or him a ‘performer’. “Seals perform,” Morrissey will say. FATHER JOHN MISTY does not claim to be a seal; however, he is more than happy to highlight the fact that what he does is pure performance.
He is in Liverpool tonight, squeezing the last promotional drops from last year’s breakthrough album I Love You, Honeybear, and an exhausting worldwide jaunt that’s seen him capitalising on the Bella Union release. But the artist formerly known as J Tillman shows no signs of tiring. Or if he does, they are the same signs he exhibited when he first appeared in front of sell-out crowds, after years spent labouring in the shadows of the big halls; tonight, his message is connecting with a mass audience.
His bombastic bravado, silly stage name and piped-in canned laughter are all part of the Misty message. This is not a show for those who want raw, honest emotion or navel-gazing introspection; seek out his albums under the J Tillman moniker for that (although I wouldn’t recommend it). Father John Misty is a product of the 21st century, with all its ironic detachment, beards and false promises.
There’s a sense of division in the crowd tonight, which is to be expected at any Saturday night gig in a big room which is close to being sold-out, even more so for an artist who has successfully achieved ‘cross-over’. The constant chatter and audible shushing do little to put Misty off his stride, though. From the opener, throughout communal favourites Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins) and True Affection, to the empathic vinegar strokes, it’s a honed act which delivers little in the way of spontaneity, but the magnetism is undeniable.
His voice is worthy of a room like Mountford Hall, huge if a little soulless (a charge regular levelled at our host). Father John’s delivery of Ideal Husband, however, is like that of a tornado. For all the elegant flourishes and sarcastic facial expressions, this furiously energised performance seems to suggest he does mean it, although many who needed convincing have left by this point.
The performance tonight is everything one can expect from an artist who is loved but inevitably divisive. It’s quite the achievement to be both so charming and infuriating. Those who are enamoured by the songs on his two albums will have fallen further in love with Father John. Those who believe him to be a hipster faker will probably not change their opinion. I’m firmly of the former category.
Sam Turner / @samturner1984