Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
Father John Misty and Har Mar Superstar at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangCosmic questions: What makes an artist put a respectable if underappreciated solo career on hold in order to play drums for a band that’s sold hundreds of thousands of records and gone platinum in the UK? And what makes that same artist leave that band in order to not resurrect their former solo career but start a completely new one? Okay, the first one is kind of a no-brainer but the second one is more of a puzzle, one that Baltimore-born, Los Angeles-based Josh Tillman is uniquely positioned to answer. He was plugging away as J Tillman since 2005 before joining Fleet Foxes in 2008 to tour behind their self-titled debut and while he continued to release solo albums, following the end of the Helplessness Blues touring cycle he announced he was leaving the band – but not to go back to being J. Tillman; instead to begin being Father John Misty.
If you do find yourself in a position to pose the above questions to Tillman, don’t be surprised if by way of an answer he just hands you a copy of Fear Fun, the just-released Father John Misty debut because it does, indeed, tell you why. Whereas the J. Tillman-branded material was pretty easily slotted as acoustic singer-songwriter fare, Fear Fun is nowhere near as easy to categorize. Suffused with ’70s-era country-rock vibes , it sounds as though Tillman gathered inspiration on his drive home from Seattle by routing through Bakersfield, the Laurel Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, and Reno, Nevada before pulling up in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. Gram Parsons’ “cosmic American music” quote gets trotted out a lot when describing music with a country-rock lineage but it applies to Father John Misty more than anything I’ve heard in recent years. Parsons would have approved of the album art as well, I think. In short, it’s not called J. Tillman because it sounds nothing like J. Tillman. Or Fleet Foxes, for that matter, though you can bet that was the hook for many/most of those who piled into the Horseshoe on Monday night for the band’s Toronto debut.
Support came from another Tillman, the unrelated Sean who himself had a few musical projects to juggle. I had seen him with Sean Na Na when they opened up for The Hold Steady in this same room back in 2006, but rather than showing off that project’s classic rock stylings, he was here as Har Mar Superstar and he was going to take off his pants. But that’s getting a bit ahead of things. Things started with Tillman fully-dressed – overdressed, really – and fronting a four-piece band that included Josh Tillman on drums but as their set progressed and their funk-soul groove gathered steam, he stripped down item by item until, by the final song of their set, it was just Tillman in his short, sweaty, paunchy glory clad only in a pair of briefs (and socks and shoes). Even a cursory bit of research about Har Mar beforehand would have revealed this was what they were about but even if you knew what was coming, it was still something to behold. Like with Sean Na Na it was almost a shame that Tillman’s onstage persona overshadowed the music – which was more than legit – but the net entertainment value was nothing to complain about. Though I wish there was more breakdancing.
Besides being a superb drummer and vocalist, Josh Tillman’s main contribution to Fleet Foxes was as the comic relief during their live shows – the guy was all kinds of funny from behind the kit. So while seeing him up front with no instrument in hand was a bit odd, you at least knew that there’d be no feeling awkward about being the centre of attention and really, you can’t keep presence like his behind a drum kit. Tillman was a litany of stage moves – shimmies, points, mic stand dancing – while leading his five-piece band through bigger, more rockier renderings of the Fear Fun material that emphasized the psychedelic aspects of the material. And of course there was the banter, which was random and hilarious and came with the added bonus of Tillman feeling extra punchy thanks to the Pitchfork review of his album earlier in the day, which despite being positive caused great offense. Towards the end of the show, Tillman mentioned that he had been “way too stoned” for the entire show – and the band passed around a lit joint as emphasis – and while that might have explained some of the the more out-there comments he made through the night, it made how tight and note-on their performance was even more impressive. Some folks may have came to the show as J. Tillman fans, most were probably Fleet Foxes fans but by the end of the show, they were all Father John Misty fans.
Photos: Father John Misty, Har Mar Superstar @ The Horseshoe – May 14, 2012
MP3: Father John Misty – “Nancy From Now On”
MP3: Father John Misty – “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
MP3: Har Mar Superstar – “Cry 4 Help”
MP3: Har Mar Superstar – “Power Lunch”
MP3: Har Mar Superstar – “Brothers And Sisters”
Video: Father John Misty – “This Is Sally Hatchet”
Video: Father John Misty – “Nancy From Now On”
Video: Father John Misty – “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
Video: Har Mar Superstar – “Tall Boy”
Video: Har Mar Superstar – “DUI”
Video: Har Mar Superstar – “Power Lunch”
Video: Har Mar Superstar – “EZ Pass”
Video: Har Mar Superstar – “Brothers & Sisters”
Video: Har Mar Superstar – “Body Request”
I don’t really know who Jonathan Coulton is – I gather he’s big on/via the internet – but the fact that he’s touring with John Roderick of The Long Winters makes the fact that said tour includes a June 6 date at The Mod Club worth noting. As is the fact that we are well overdue for a new Long Winters record.
The NXNE schedule is due out any day now, but word of some of the bigger shows are coming out a little beforehand. Like that White Rabbits and Vacationer will be at The Mod Club on June 14. The Independent ran a feature on the band a few weeks back.
Your festival wristband will also be good for admission to see A Place To Bury Strangers at The El Mocambo on (I believe) June 14, where they’ll be previewing their new record Worship, out June 26. The Stool Pigeon has an interview with the band about the new record.
Rolling Stone is offering for download a version of the title track from Guided By Voices’ next record Class Clown Spots A UFO from when it was a Robert Pollard song. Which it still is, technically. The album is out June 19.
Video: Lower Dens – “Nova Anthem”
It being release week for Best Coast’s new one The Only Place, there’s plenty of press going around with Bethany Cosentino. Check out pieces at LA Weekly, The Guardian, Under The Radar, GQ, The Line Of Best Fit, and Vice. They play The Phoenix on July 21.