Father John Misty provides extravagancy and intimacy at Cain’s Ballroom

On Wednesday night, a crowd of people struggled in unison to clear their pockets for the security check. After many the waves of a security wand and a few cursory glances at crinkled tickets, the audience gradually seeped into Cain’s Ballroom.
For once, no music was playing over the speakers prior to the set. All that filled the room was the excited conversation amongst the crowd and the deep red lights that lit up the stage and bounced all around.
At about 8 p.m., though, four particularly trendy looking individuals took the stage. The pianist/vocalist, who could be a poster child for well-kempt curly hair, a bassist wearing an ascot and a newscap and a guitarist wearing a glittery, sequined shirt. The drummer took a seat at a drumset with bandanas tightly wrapped around all the heads, to strictly dampen their sound.
They were on stage for about 45 minutes and played eleven songs. Their music was agreeable and funky. Rich basslines chugged along behind each song and the vocals and guitar took turns neatly sitting on top of that bed of bass. The keyboard and the guitar paired together with a perfect recipe for delectable dream pop which is, in the studio, actually a duo between those two performers in the first place.
As far as live acts go, this was one of the best-mixed ones I’d witnessed. Although you couldn’t make out what the vocalist was singing most of the time and despite a few feedback issues, the mixing was incredible. Her voice acted like another instrument, it fit in with the rest of the music so well that I didn’t even consider it necessary to know what she was saying; I just liked listening to her.
I’d like to be cynical and attribute the good mixing to where I was standing, but if anything I was standing in a bad spot. My right ear took a real beating that night, given my proximity to the stage, but I could still tell that the sound had been very fine-tuned.
Beyond the technicalities, though, Tennis was just great fun to watch on stage. The vocalist mentioned it was their first time in Tulsa and also that it was their last performance in the tour, assuring us that because they got to go home the next day that they’d be getting very drunk that night.
They danced around and showed a true mastery of their instruments; the vocalist really impressed my caveman-mind by effortlessly playing her keyboard with one hand while looking around at the band and the crowd, just chilling out and seeming to take it all in while her fingers seamlessly found their places.
Eventually we all said our goodbyes, though. After another half hour of no music and awkward lighting, the stage went dark and nine men came out and grabbed their instruments. This detail alone impressed me. There was a brass/woodwind section comprised of three men in the back that switched between flutes, trumpets and saxophones throughout the entirety of the concert, three pianists, a drummer, a guitarist and a bassist. As the band began playing the first measures to “Pure Comedy,” Father John Misty made his way onstage and, much to the crowd’s delight, broke into singing.
He seems like a man that was born for the stage. His expressions, both facial and otherwise, are so humorous and almost overdone that they match his persona and lyrics perfectly. Basically, imagine a live performance as snide and smartass-ish as his studio recordings are. It was great watching him. He had a ridiculous amount of energy and danced perhaps even more than he sang onstage. Occasionally he’d grab a guitar and play along with the band, but he spent most of the concert using just his voice.
The set grabbed songs from his entire discography. There were live versions of songs that seemed indistinguishable from the studio versions, songs such as “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins),” “Birdie,” “Real Love Baby” and “True Affection.”
Other songs got fantastic makeovers, like “Nancy From Now On” with its new drum-heavy second and third verses that pushed the previously slow and sensual song along with a newfound rhythm and cadence, and “Things it Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” with an extended instrumental breakdown (meaning an orgy of noise and crash cymbals) toward its end and some wonderful Father John Misty dance moves to go along with it.
The encore’s songs in particular got great treatment, with “Holy Shit” getting another crazy instrumental breakdown in the middle of the performance, just before the final verse (present in the studio version but dragged out and even crazier live) and a completely solo and acoustic rendering of “I Went to the Store One Day,” during which I found myself clearing my throat in preparation to sing along on the final line.
I could write pages and pages about each song he performed and how he did it — I certainly took enough notes to do that — but I’d rather talk about my favorite part of show: his banter and his interaction with the audience.
Father John Misty, known otherwise as Josh Tillman, is frequently seen as a self-absorbed asshole who takes himself too seriously. This may be true for Father John Misty, but not for Josh Tillman, and I felt more like I was watching Josh Tillman on stage than Father John Misty, which is absolutely a good thing.
He was smiling and telling jokes between songs the whole night; it was wonderfully entertaining. At one point early in the set he popped a cough drop on stage and went into a spiel perhaps dedicated to his wife (“Darling…”) about him recently taking up the habit of steroids. He assured her that, despite his new muscle-y, sweaty form, it was still him, and that it was just him and her against the world. The absurdity of the thing, all said in the middle of the performance of “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” had me in a fit of laughter.
During the performance of “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay” he admitted to the crowd that he had a respiratory infection (explaining the cough drop from earlier) and made jokes for the rest of the night about how he was “dying.”
My favorite part of the night is probably when he stopped in the middle of “I Love You, Honeybear” at the end of the original set. Just before entering the song’s final refrain he crouched on the stage and didn’t get back up. I could see the band behind him laughing and sort of looking around, confused.
I stood up higher to get a better look and saw him still crouched there with a huge, stupid-looking smile on his face, staring somewhere off to his side into the crowd.

Post Author: Ethan Veenker

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