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Father John Misty At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Thursday, August 18th, 2022

Father John Misty
Father John Misty at Hollywood Forever

Last February, Father John Misty played with the LA Philharmonic in the splendid Walt Disney Hall, and I attended the performance, but it was not a reason for skipping one of his two shows at Hollywood Forever Cemetery this week. Since he wrote a song called “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” he was obviously bound to play there one of these days. The lyrics of the song – kissing a girl and getting high on a tomb of the cemetery – tell me that, as a true adoptive Los Angelino, he hasn’t missed any of the ironies of Hollywood: even a cemetery can turn into an entertainment venue. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” was naturally the third song he performed, but there were many songs alluding to deaths when I think about it.

Summer nights in the old Hollywood cemetery always have brought something special, they often make memorable moments, a classic vignette in our maze of memories, and if the location affects the music, Tillman and his sweeping orchestrations between the tombs were certainly not to be missed!

Suki Waterhouse opened the show with a set of her pop songs that could fit between Lana Del Rey and Brit-pop. The UK model-actress-turned singer performed songs from her debut album “I Can’t Let Go” with silky vocals and a sexy appeal.  She started with the catchy “Moves” and continued with the social commentary of ”Bullshit on the Internet,” a sunnier tune that visibly charmed the crowd with ease. She could tenderly whisper lines while her voice soared a few times, while she was graciously moving on stage. Her most Lana Del Rey song may have been “Melrose Meltdown,” singing lines like “We really fucked it up/In diamonds and drug stores,” with a large amount of vulnerability. After her new single “Nostalgia,” which also had strong Del Rey vibes, she ended her set with her most well-known song, the deliciously waltz-y “Good Looking.” I am sure we will hear from her more now that she calls Los Angeles her hometown.

Setlist
Moves
Bullshit on the Internet
Devil I Know
Johanna
Neon Signs
On your Thumb
Coolest Place in the World
Melrose Meltdown
Nostalgia
Good Looking

In February, Father John Misty hadn’t played many songs off his then-unreleased album, “Chloé and the Next 20th Century,” but he played six of them on Thursday night, starting right away with “Q4,” whose ‘70s vintage melody had been stuck in my brain since I heard it. This is something quite rare, but Josh Tillman can write truly memorable melodies, and that’s why all the people around me were screaming at the first notes of almost all the songs he performed. “Oh that could be like thirty of my songs,” he said when people started screaming at the first chord accord of a song.

The audience was with him for the two-hour show, whether he was doing some oldie (the crowd was singing along all the time) or a brand new one like the golden-age-Hollywood-jazz-inspired “Chloé,” the central character of his last effort. “Yes, I did that,” he joked after the song. “You are not the only person who went completely insane during the pandemic.”

Do a lot of people die in Father John Misty songs? I hadn’t really noticed, as his lyrics are always on the cryptic side, and his stories are riddled with references, name-droppings, and innuendos. They often work like the skeleton of a big unwritten novel – well, he has a song called “I’m Writing a Novel” – and some songs are so wordy that you would need to pause at each line. But yes, a lot of people die in his songs. ”By my count, is that 4 deaths so far?” he told us after “Goodbye Mr. Blue,” a heartbreaking tune about a dead cat, or a dead relationship, or maybe a song about the last time you do something before the ultimate… end. The perfect song for a cemetery.

“Do me a favor,” he said with his usual deadpan humor. “When I die, don’t let them burry me here, it’s a bit on the nose. We should let the dead guys sleep. When I die, we are going to carbonate… turn my body into carbon and we are going to put my ashes into a commemorative diamond ring and put it for sale on FatherJohnMisty.com, it’s how I want to go.” A typical Father John Misty joke, a combination of confidence and cynicism, playing with death as a new marketing idea.

But in the end, his last album is a big band album, filled with late-century ballrooms (“Funny Girl”) and sweeping cinematic orchestrations interrupted by astonishing distorted guitars (“The Next 20th Century”), and the show elevated to another level of beauty each time horns and strings were backing up one of Tillman’s stage moves through the “mysterious fog” that kept invading the stage.

There were more sad ones, the very appropriate, “Please Don’t Die,” (considering the place), the tragic “Buddy’s Rendezvous,” or “Hangout at the Gallows,” but the depressive stuff was always interrupted by uplifting material like the amazing Mariachi trumpets of “Chateau Lobby #4,” and of course, “I Love You, Honeybear.”

On stage, his stage antics were rather sober, except during a few songs (“Date Night” for example), as he seized the mic stand a few times. However, the stupid fog was masking most of the action and prevented us from fully enjoying it. There were a few faux departs, but he kept playing after saying “See you next time” and he naturally came back for a rather low-key encore with “The Songwriter,” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” unfortunately without playing the last song on the setlist (“Real Love Baby”)… “We are out of time!” … even cemeteries have curfews.

As a performer Tillman knows how to captivate his audience, whether he talks using a savant mélange of self-loathing, candor, and irony, whether he lets his music speak with the help of brilliant and lush orchestrations, or whether he stops in the middle of a song (“Pure Comedy”) after a remark from the crowd, to go on a 4-minute rant explaining that the song was supposed to be track one of a sci-fi space opera about alien bureaucrats reporting on planet earth? Is it even true? Maybe, but nobody probably cared, it was just entertaining and fun. As pseudo-intellectual commentaries dissecting everything from sex to morality, consumerism, and religion, his songs can be awfully complex, and, except for rappers (maybe?), I don’t think many people could get away with those texts. Have you ever read the Genius annotations for “Pure Comedy” and “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution”? However, since the time he reinvented himself as Father John Misty, Josh Tillman’s hilarious confidence and sense of absurdity always work, in any setting: he just has the panache for anything. The songs off “Chloë and the Next 20th Century” are a bit different though, they are more stories-oriented with an old-Hollywood twist, and they were at the core of the show on Thursday: It was not so much about wounded cynic Father John Misty but more about polished orchestrations scoring the night with majestic beauty. He was right on every account, it was “such a great night,” despite this damn stage fog.

Setlist
Q4
Mr. Tillman
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Chloë
Just Dumb Enough to Try
Nancy From Now On
Goodbye Mr. Blue
Funny Girl
I’m Writing a Novel
Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
Please Don’t Die
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
Buddy’s Rendezvous
Hangout at the Gallows
Pure Comedy
The Next 20th Century
I Love You, Honeybear
Date Night
When You’re Smiling and Astride Me

Encore:
The Songwriter
So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain

 

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