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An Early Performance Of J. Tillman (Father John Misty) At Origami Vinyl, Sunday, January 10th, 2011

J. Tillman


Whether you like him or can’t stand him, it doesn’t make any difference, Father John Misty is a rock star now, hanging out with the likes of Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey, playing at Coachella in front of thousands. Josh Tillman has managed to make us completely forget about his past of Fleet Foxes drummer since he has reinvented himself as this grandiloquent Misty character, walking on the edge separating arrogance from brilliance, always arousing admiration or irritation. I never know exactly what to think about him, I like many of his songs, but I understand why people can be turned off by his weird charisma. He can be hilarious, but his cynical idiosyncrasy is not for everyone.

I have bumped into him a few times, but I had a close-up in January 2011, before he had transformed himself into his FJM character. He was just J. Tillman at the time, playing inside a record store in Echo Park, surrounded by a thin crowd of people, as the tiny place couldn’t fit many people anyway. He played a few songs with his acoustic guitar and he sounded so serious at the time, almost sad at times, and there was no visible irony, nothing that could have predicted his current stage antics! He played many songs of his album ‘Fear Fun’, which he released the following year, in May 2012, and he even did ‘The ideal Husband’ of his 2015 album ‘I Love You Honeybear’! I filmed a lot of it, and since the songs hadn’t been released at the time, he asked me to remove the videos on YouTube, which I obviously did. I have re-uploaded a few of them, I hope it’s alright now, he has released 2 albums since, and he is very famous now. Plus there is certainly nothing to be ashamed of this early performance, but it is always interesting to see the evolution of a character, the building of a myth!

This is what I wrote at the time:

I checked Origami Vinyl’s website in the middle of the afternoon, and surprise,… they had a show! The free shows around LA have been almost on hold recently, and I have been in withdrawal since Christmas.

I rarely know about the artists who perform there but it never matters, and yesterday evening, J. Tillman, the drummer from Fleet Foxes, was performing an acoustic set.

Contrarily to many shows I have been to, inside the tiny store, he was playing downstairs, not in the mezzanine, so very close to the public, a ‘claustrophobic’ situation who had scared the hell out of Sigur Ros’ own Jónsi at the same location, a few months ago. But it was not the case at all yesterday.

Tillman writes beautiful folk-country songs that he performs with a warm and full voice, going falsetto at times, and even whistling in a subtle manner at other times. With his tall stature and long hair, his serious character emanates a true charisma, which seems to have escaped from a sort of old-school Western movie, the kind of country epic drama where it is a lot question of the bible. I got this impression, because I effectively noted a lot of biblical references in his lyrics, references like this one:

‘Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones could not give me myths/So I had to write my own/So I got hung up on religions/Though I know it’s a waste/ I’ve never liked the name Joshua/And I’ve got tired of J’,…

Of course, J. stands for Joshua in his name….

And I remember him talking about John the Baptist, Jesus and Mary in the same tune, and other songs, and that’s why I suddenly had Johnny Cash in my mind for a few minutes…. But here the sonic atmosphere was much softer, and that’s when my mind wandered to Nick Drake. J. Tillman’s work could just be lying in the middle.

Most of his songs were delivered in a slow pace, with a melancholic, solemn, almost severe tone, that was inspiring respect and a complete silence from the public who seemed to have been composed of the quietest people I had ever been with. He had more upbeat tunes, but, even there, the moaning and the mourning dominated the climate.

With an authentic storyteller style, his songs had that direct confessional tone that belongs to the greatest, and some poignant lyrics that seem to be impregnated with sadness and depression.

Watching him singing only accompanied with his acoustic guitar, I kept hearing here and there what the songs were probably sounding with full instrumentations,

It is not his work with Fleet Foxes that has slowed him down, …J. Tillman has released seven solo albums, and the last three are on Western vinyl, the label of Will Oldham, an artist that sure seem to operate in the same musical universe.

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