Entertain Me: Father John Misty

By Rachel Rippetoe | September 6, 2016 9:10pm

Father John Misty performs at McMenamin's Edgefield Outdoor Theater. 

Media Credit: Sam Keeler / The Beacon

There are few artists I’d wait for in the pouring rain while wearing uncomfortable high waisted denim shorts on a Thursday night. Father John Misty is one of them.

Alternately known as J Tillman or “Daddy J” as a drunk girl shouted during the performance at McMenamins’ Edgefield stage (“Play us some tunes, Daddy J!”), Father John is an enigma in the current indie Americana climate.


Sure, he busts out witty and satirical lyrics in the same lane as Ezra Koenig and Win Butler of Arcade Fire. His airy yet resounding vocals are among the ranks of Justin Vernon or Ben Howard. He can bring out the acoustic guitar and sing a folk hit just like an Avett Brother. But there’s something about this particular messy-bunned tall figure of a man that sticks out from the sea of today’s velvety-voiced indie crooners. What gives?

Part of it has to be his stage presence. When you put Josh Tillman behind a microphone, he’s not your typical stiff hipster in cuffed jeans; he’s a rock star. Give the guy a stage and an audience and suddenly he’s David Byrne. Nobody in the business can blend apathy and passion in quite the same way.

On sad songs, he looks like a man perpetually trapped in a never-ending midlife crisis. He drags his fingers from his temple to the bottom of his beard in distress while singing about being bored in the USA.

Then he switches gears. He shakes his hips, gets down on his knees and kisses the floor on songs like “True Affection” and “I’m Writing a Novel.” He takes the microphone off the stand and swings it artfully through the air, catching it right on the mark every time.

What makes the dude so special is that I believe him. Watching him up on stage, I believe that he is the deeply sarcastic and spiteful (sexy) mess of a man he claims to be. He comes in, so self-aware of the paradox every touring, record selling artist who spouts out hateful words against capitalism is.

“I’m so bohemian, I forget about the whole capitalist system behind touring,” Tillman said in between songs. “I thought you all just did a good deed to get in here.”

“Holy Shit” is the thesis of Tillman’s most recent album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” and it was the climax of his show at Edgefield. He paused mid-performance to jump up on the drumset, moaning and buckling his knees like he was Miles Davis or something.

But “Holy Shit” gets to the heart of why this large bearded man who looks like he could be a hippie cult leader in the 70s speaks so profoundly to a generation of dissatisfied and detached Millennials. A few of the lyrics read:

This documentary's lost on me

Satirical news, free energy

Mobile lifestyle, loveless sex

Independence, happiness

Oh, and no one ever knows the real you, and life is brief

So I've heard, but what's that gotta do with this atom bomb in me?

How do you live in the age of information that calculates the minuscule meaning of your existence - among other things - without sinking into a giant pit of despair? Angry apathy.

That’s what “I Love You, Honeybear” is. That’s what Father John Misty is: sultry, angry apathy with hips thrusting in a pair of particularly tight skinny jeans.

But other than Bernie Sanders, there’s only one angry white man I’d willfully (and happily) watch on stage. Hats off to FJM.