By Bryan Rolli
You can call Josh Tillman — better known as Father John Misty — a lot of things on his new album, “I Love You, Honeybear”: snide, condescending, arrogant, even downright angry.
But don’t you dare call him lazy.
Especially not after his sold-out performance Friday night at Stubb’s BBQ. Tillman preened, pranced and pouted all across the stage, packing almost his entire catalog into a 90-minute show before a crowd of 20-something hipsters who managed to drop all their pretenses and have some unadulterated fun. Don’t worry, nobody will tell.
One question loomed in my mind as I waited for Tillman to take the stage: Does this guy ever lose his shit? His music falls somewhere between the lovelorn storytelling of Billy Joel, the disarming earnestness of Neutral Milk Hotel and the psychedelic meanderings of Peter, Paul and Mary. But there’s always an air of cool detachment, a reluctance to tell listeners just how much fun he’s having or how much sweat is dripping from his beard (which bears striking resemblance to Jim Morrison circa 1970).
Tillman opened with the title track off his new album. He tossed the microphone stand behind his head, wrung his hands in the air and danced like your mother at a wedding reception after four glasses of chardonnay. He leapt off the drum riser and into the crowd in one fluid motion, teetering head-first over the barricade and steadying himself on every head and shoulder within reach.
Oh. Well, I guess he does lose it.
Backed by a band that included lap steel guitar, dueling keyboardists and a mean fiddler, Tillman barreled through all the fan favorites from “Honeybear” and his 2012 debut “Fear Fun.” His delivery is so dry that it’s often easy to overlook his actual voice, but he showed incredible restraint in his lower register and a tear-jerking falsetto. “Thank you, I hope everyone’s having a good time,” he quipped, with just enough sincerity for us to believe him.
The most poignant moment of the night came two-thirds through the set, as the pregnant sky drew ever closer to bursting. Tillman hushed the crowd as he strummed the opening chords of “Nothing Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” promising it would be worth it. Halfway through the song, he hurled his guitar offstage and bent over the mic stand, stomping his feet, dropping to the floor and writhing like a pre-Botox Axl Rose.
He was right. It was worth it.
During an encore performance of “Bored in the USA,” Tillman grabbed a phone from the front row and filmed himself as the song drew to a close. “I don’t think we got it,” he said with mock sheepishness. “Can we try it again? This will only take a minute.” The band kicked into the song once more, but Tillman missed his cue, gazing into the camera with a phony smile plastered on his face. He returned the phone to its owner, chiding him in a fatherly tone: “Here’s your Samsung Galaxy, young man.”
You can call the character known as Father John Misty a lot of things on his albums: world-weary poet, drug-addled troubadour, even self-conscious lover.
But there’s only one way to describe the real Josh Tillman after a performance like Friday’s.
He’s a rock star.