The endlessly delightful End of the Road festival is a beautiful, moderately sized bubble of joy, populated largely by well-bearded men and those with way too many records by Bob Dylan in their record collections (vinyl, of course). The fact then, that this is the first ever festival to have booked Father John Misty as a headline act should come as no surprise. He might never have played here before, but Father John Misty is as End of the Road appropriate as a knit-your-own Townes Van Zandt workshop over in the fairy-light strewn woodlands beyond the main stage.
“This is my first time headlining a festival,” states the man otherwise known as Josh Tillman halfway through his glorious set, sporting a decidedly louche baggy blazer-cum-smoking jacket. “It’s not really my bread and butter but I’m gonna do my best.” True to his word, Tillman pulls in a total showstopper, complete with string accompaniment, more than a couple of slut drops and some typically sardonic banter. Coming on like Dean Martin by way of Chris Packham, he goes down on bended knee and sassily propositions the adoring crowd during a potent ‘When You’re Smiling And Astride Me’. “Darling, I’ve got an idea,” he says confidentially to a few thousand people. “Why don’t you and I find a big rainy field and put on something sexy. I’ll break out my Gortex performance fleece and you’ll put on your wellies that you’ve been saving and we’ll remember what it was like to be young.” The appropriately kitted out crowd can barely contain their glee and the furtive rustle of reasonably priced outdoor wear rings out through the field.
Storming through material from this year’s end-of-the-polemic ‘Pure Comedy’ – Tillman’s third album in the FJM guise – the set is surprisingly life-affirming, with a newly-found deep-throated huskiness appearing alongside his usual smooth crooning. ‘Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’ is throatier than ever before and all the more passionate for it, while ‘Ballad of a Dying Man’ is just like being trapped in a VR simulation of the BBC 6Music studio.
Father John Misty’s sermon offers up some sage lessons from his earlier albums too, with ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ sounding more than ever like Oasis’s ‘Supersonic’ as fed through the mind of a late 1970s Warren Zevon. The elegiac ‘Bored In The USA’ sees steam rising from Tillman, bringing to mind Bruce Springsteen’s legendary Glastonbury headline set back in 2009 – with almost as many dramatic knee drops – and there’s even an appearance of the non-album banger ‘Real Love Baby’, which jangles along like the Beach Boys sipping margaritas with Crosby, Stills and Nash on a hot summer’s night somewhere very, very far from a cold and damp Dorset. Headlining festivals might not be Father John Misty’s bread and butter, but this weekend he made a damn fine sandwich.