When Josh Tillman left Fleet Foxes in 2012 to go solo, he did so with a guitar strapped to his back and a string of downcast indie folk songs bouncing around his brain. The beard was bushy, the long hair unkempt. He was a bit like Neil Young, but with sex appeal.
Fast-forward 10 years, though, and the man now known as Father John Misty slinks his way onto stage at London’s Barbican Hall with all the smooth charm of a Hollywood crooner. Gone is the fame-shy, sarky bullshit artist, who has been replaced by a confident entertainer, dressed to the nines in loafers and a smart, black suit. He banters with the crowd. He commands the Britten Sinfonia orchestra with a flick of his wrist. He even has dance moves now.
And these are very much needed. Most of the show finds Tillman without his beloved acoustic guitar, naked but for a simple mic stand. He shuffles his way about the place, a quick two-step here and a hip-swing there before resting a foot on the monitor speaker and eyeballing the crowd. Much like Alex Turner in recent years, Tillman’s added a certain amount of razzle-dazzle to his frontman game. He’s not just here to sing the songs tonight, but to perform them as well.
We kick off with a classic, ‘Funtimes In Babylon’. The first song from his 2012 debut album ‘Fear Fun’ is a fan favourite and elicits whoops and cheers from the audience. Next comes a brace of new tunes from latest album ‘Chloë and the Next 20th Century’: twinkling piano ballad ‘Goodbye Mr. Blue’ and the big-band stylings of title track ‘Chloë’. Every one of the 11 fresh cuts from the record gets an airing tonight, and each fits perfectly into the setlist (with the exception of bossa nova bop ‘Olvidado (Otro Momento)’, which even Tillman concedes sounds like “he went insane in lockdown”.)
Mixed in with those are some well-worn bangers, of course. ‘Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)’, with its soaring melody and elegant trumpets, provides an early highlight. Then there’s the Taylor Swift-referencing ‘Total Entertainment Forever’, before piano-laden ballad ‘Pure Comedy’ precedes triumphant closer ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. At one point Tillman goofily announces that he’s had his “zipper undone” the whole time, but that doesn’t break the steamy spell he’s cast over the audience (a large proportion of which is made up of smitten couples).
In fact, there’s a properly loved-up atmosphere to the whole gig. It might just be Tillman’s rugged good looks getting the crowd hot under the collar, but it feels like each punter is definitely ready for some post-COVID mingling. During the second encore of raunchy rocker ‘Date Night’, he kneels down and softly kisses a woman’s head in the front row. Reader, we’re pretty sure we heard several sets of ovaries explode. If that’s not proof of Tillman’s new, increased powers, we don’t know what is.
Father John Misty played:
‘Funtimes In Babylon’
‘Goodbye Mr. Blue’
‘Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)’
‘The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”
‘(Everything But) Her Love’
‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All’
‘Total Entertainment Forever’
‘Olvidado (Otro Momento)’
‘Only A Fool’
‘God’s Favorite Customer’
‘We Could Be Strangers’
‘The Next 20th Century’
‘I Love You, Honeybear’
‘Nancy From Now On’
‘Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before The Revolution’