|ALL PHOTOS BY BRIDGETTE AIKENS|
Words by Ryan Self; Photos by Bridgette Aikens.
This is an article about the new Kanye record.
Except this isn't an article about the new Kanye record, it's a rock concert review.
Except no, it's an article about modern pop culture, which realistically means it's an article about the new Kanye record.
But mostly, it's an article about Joshua Tillman, also known as J. Tillman, also known as Father John Misty, and more importantly the live show he played in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 27th.
Hours before Tillman took the stage, I am gathered with friends at a local watering hole, partaking in a little show enjoyment lubrication. Music buffs that we are, the topic is the best albums of 2016. I am trying to convince my skeptical barmates that the new Kanye West record is genius, and urging them not to confuse his buffoonish public persona with a lack of real talent and vision. They are skeptical, and I cannot say that I converted them. Yet.
On we go to the show, where Tillman and his bandmates take the stage to a sold out room and uproarious applause. From my perch about three rows from the stage I have a good look at Tillman, all tall, lanky stage presence and charisma. The man can command a stage, and he knows it.
There's an element to the Father John Misty persona that can make the listener wonder if they are in on the joke - or part of the joke. Bombastic performances on late night shows, all beard and leisure suit, can make Tillman look like the clown prince of indie rock. So it was wildly gratifying to see him come out and play a true rock show. Tillman's songs need no accoutrement; the fans have always known this, it's good that the artist does too. Tillman, a guitar, his band and these amazing songs...nothing else is needed.
Oh, and the show itself? Fantastic. Father John Misty songs, partially because they alternate between lyrically clever and devastating, can feel like magnum opuses (opi?) even at four minutes; the kind of songs that would necessitate a lot of staring at shoes. Not here. If you know the band, you know the songs, and Tillman plays the favorites to the crowds' unending delight, and with zero ironic detachment. The highlight, however, and not just for novelty value, is his late-set cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." You can tell a lot about what a band wants to be/thinks it is by the cover songs they choose. Think Uncle Tupelo doing "I Want to be Your Dog" to make sure they're keeping the "alt" in alt country, or Travis doing "Baby One More Time," to remind fans hey, we're not taking all this too seriously. Not only did Father John Misty choose the pinnacle of mid-90's industrial rock, they played it if anything more aggressively than the source material. If Tillman doesn't genuinely want to fornicate me like an animal, he's a hell of a con man.
Post show, I gather out back with the diehards to meet the man. Most want signatures, I just want to chat. One couple drove 16 hours from Maine.
Joshua finally comes out, shakes some hands, signs some records. He is gracious and accommodating to the fans, so I dive in.
"I'm in no mood to answer questions. Ok, one."
I start with an easy question, hoping to have a longer chat.
"Talk about playing this location, the vibe in the air tonight."
"Too broad, can't do it."
Ok..."You've seen bands cancelling North Carolina shows due to the regressive politics here, but you got the chance to play for a packed house tonight and spread the vibe. Can you talk about that decision? Any consideration to cancel?"
"If I stopped playing at every state with fucked up laws, where could I play?"
I ask Joshua one last question. I have to have some meat to this story, even if it's pedantic crap.
"Josh, what's the best record of 2016?" He hasn't released an album in 2016. This is a softball.
"Oh man, I never hear any new tunes." Fuck, he's still stonewalling.
"One album. One inspiration. Come on Josh."
"The band is driving around, you're not listening to anything?"
He's walking back inside, and he stops. "Wait a minute. Kanye. The Kanye record."
I silently fist pound. The night is won once again.