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Oldies But Goodies: From J. Tillman To Father John Misty

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Father John Misty at the Glasshouse


Time flies, I am on my way today to see Father John Misty at the Glasshouse in Pomona, a far away gig for a weekday concert, but I really wanted to see him live. I saw him four years ago, at the time he was only named J. Tillman, and was giving a free in store at Origami Vinyl. I must admit that I went there at the time just because he was Fleet Foxes’ drummer, and not knowing anything about his solo stuff. He played a few songs on acoustic guitar and I even filmed a few of them but he sent me a message on YouTube asking me to remove them… Oh well, at least I wrote this review and what I heard at the time was very different from his current music, it was much sadder and doomer, stuffed with biblical references and we were very far from the festive mariachi trumpets and his current second-level irony.. Time has passed, the gloomy days of Josh Tillman are gone. There were barely 15 people in the store in 2011, tonight show is sold out, from acoustic balladeer to charismatic rock star, it is an interesting transformation. Here is what I wrote in 2011:

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 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, long hair, his serious character emanates a true charisma, which seems to have escaped from a sort of Western, the kind of country epic drama where it is a lot question of the bible. It’s certainly because I noted a lot of biblical references in his lyrics that I got this impression. 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 are 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 seems to operate in the same musical universe.

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