If Josh Tillman’s Saturday night display at the Wiltern taught me anything, it’s that my love of music is equal to my misanthropy – at least when it comes to LA audiences. Mind you, “music is the air I breathe,” like “literally.”
The show opened with the titular “I Love You, Honeybear.” A melancholically-toned manifesto of love was warped into a sensational number. Every detail of the album recording was present in the live version, yet the cutting charisma of Mr. Tillman punched me in the stomach as he fell to his knees, describing how he’d rather get high in bed with his Honeybear. Together they are, allegedly, impervious to the corruption and destruction of the world outside of their bedroom. Color me kvelling.
One of the reasons I find the music of Father John Misty so endearing is its balance of romantic melodies and biting, aggressive lyrics. “True Affection” is a song that nullifies that description. I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that Tillman’s goal in producing it was to mock the indie-pop 4/4 beats lousy with men singing in gentle falsettos that have invaded our internet-based radio playlists over the past few years. I can be a sucker for those tunes, but it’s not something I expect from a musician who describes fucking, and uncertainly satisfying someone on top of a grave in Hollywood.
“How many of you were dragged here by someone you love?” He taunted. A young woman with whom I exchanged hostile words over standing room before the show began raised her hand. I have to appreciate her candor. After all, it was about time someone in the audience matched Tillman’s directness. That was a minor frustration compared to the fight that broke out at the first verse of “Chateau Lobby #4.” The song abruptly stopped. The house lights awoke. “I understand, that’s one of my more aggressive songs,” Tillman quipped at the men involved in what he described as a “testosterone-fueled rage.” Chateau is as lyrically descriptive as FJM gets when it comes to his life with Emma Tillman (née Garr). Who the fuck fights when a beardy, sparkly jacket-clad poet sings a pleasant mariachi-style ballad to the love of his life? LA, what is wrong with you?
In fact, as my friend and I laughed through our singalong to “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment,” I noticed the girl next to me staring at us. I asked, “Are you happy?” only to be met with a quizzical, “Um, yeah?” I didn’t realize this was the place to play the Whose Line Is It Anyway? game where players converse solely in questions. Of course, that uptalk was apropos for the tone of the song. Fun fact: this is the song I quoted in the first paragraph of this review!
One chick standing to my right battled my growing irritation with LA crowds (this rage has been gradually growing for years). We busted out our best moves for “I’m Writing A Novel.” I still don’t know if that song is encouragement for or a warning against doing psychedelics in Big Sur. Don’t care, danced and sang with someone who genuinely wanted to be at the show as much as I did.
A few songs later, “Bored In The USA” began. Everyone in the audience knew their cues to cheer at the segments where laugh tracks can be heard on the album recording. Tillman’s gestures enhanced what is already an alarm for millenials to stop watching live music happen through a recording device. Flailing fingers, as if to say “lol amirite?” evoked chuckles among the few who actually listened to the lyrics of the song. Others laughed because “omg who is this guy? he’s hilar.” And then Tillman confirmed a rumor I had heard. He snatched the phone out of an upfront fan holding her phone in his face, probably prepared to snapchat a video of the performance. Honestly, if you’re going to take your god damn phone out to record a show, at least make a recording that doesn’t disappear from your phone’s storage. Speaking of which, after singing at the phone for the remainder of the song, Tillman spoke into it for a while. He went on about how ironic it was that people were cheering for a song about being present in experiences, yet they were going to watch everything happening right in front of them through a screen. Then he joked that the phone’s media storage limit had been met. But it was okay, but she’ll never watch the video he created. After all, she needs to make room for the show she’ll film the next night, and the night after that! Yo Joshua, you also said your words weren’t a piece of cultural commentary, but from my end I saw a lot fewer smartphone screens blocking my view as soon as “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” came through the speakers. Thank you.
Of course more voices accompanied the band when the beat to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” began to pound into the drumkit. One of FJM’s more popular songs, even the passive aggressive recipient of my aforementioned verbal lashing (the one who raised her hand earlier on) knew some words. FYI, she instagrammed SEVEN videos of the same song. What? WHAT?
My judgmental attitude subsided two songs later, though. The pre-encore show closer, “The Ideal Husband,” was a beautiful rock n’ roll freakshow. The swinging beat paired with such a simple chord progression emanated harshly from the speakers in the best possible way. If I have any sense of pitch, it was played a couple of steps lower than the recording but I can’t blame the guy. Through jumps onto the bass drum, lunges, and emotional drainage, I’d be losing my voice too.
There was nothing disingenuous about what happened on stage last night. And to be in the same room as someone willing to look at a packed venue and essentially call everyone out for being a member of the arguably most distracted generation was an honor.