WELCOME TO BABYLON: I have more than a few reasons to assume that this week will bring with it an unforgettable live show. I speak, of course, of this Friday, February 1, when Club Mercy will present Father John Misty at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club. Never mind that FJM used to be Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman, the heartbeat behind the world’s most famous “indie” band. Let’s even, just for a second, block out the seven albums he’s put out as solo artist J. Tillman. Instead, I suggest we look to Tillman circa 2013, a man who seems to have finally cashed in on the cleverness that’s always been lurking beneath the surface of his songwriting.
Sometime after saying sayonara to the Foxes, Tillman headed south to Los Angeles and quickly immersed himself in the musical Candyland of Laurel Canyon. From there, it wasn’t long before we got our first whiffs of Fear Fun, FJM’s lush and folk-centric “debut.” Like his alma mater, Father John Misty came equipped with splendid harmonies, acoustic guitar strums, and warm, thoughtful percussion. But in the place of Fleet Foxes’ grand sonic swells and naturalist lyrics, we got Tillman’s booming baritone and a whole lot of whacked-out myths about the L.A. scene. The stories spoke of hallucinogen-induced hijinks and irreverent love interests, each delivered in a style that vacillated imperceptibly between crooning lounge act and sincere troubadour.
Of course, therein lies Father John Misty’s ingenious riddle. As Fear Fun rolls along, the ridiculousness of the subject matter builds to hilarious proportions. “I ran down the road, pants down to my knees / Screaming ‘please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!’” Tillman sings on “I’m Writing a Novel.” Then he tells us, “And I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before.” It’s this kind of cheeky sarcasm that makes Fear Fun far more than a great record; it’s a smart and humanizing take on a city filled with insincerity and self-love, delivered in a style that tends to take itself a little too seriously. And in a lot of ways, it’s made FJM the ultimate folk antihero.
“Songwriting for me had always only been interesting and necessary because I saw it as this vehicle for truth, but I had this realization that all I had really done with it was lick my wounds for years and years, and become more and more isolated from people and experiences,” Tillman said in Fear Fun’s initial press release. “I don’t even like wound-licking music,” he continued. “I want to listen to someone rip their arm off and beat themselves with it. I don’t believe that until now I’ve ever put anything at risk in my music.”
And now? Now he’s found a voice — and a fantastically flamboyant onstage presence — that’s shaking things up in all the right ways. Following Friday’s SOhO show, FJM is headed to Australia, then back to the U.S. for a string of dates that includes this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Needless to say, the adventure is surely spawning a whole new slew of song fodder.
Father John Misty plays SOhO on Friday, February 1, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for info.
FAMILY TIES: On the other end of the acoustic-guitar music spectrum, this Tuesday, February 5, brings country crooner Holly Williams to SOhO in support of her latest, The Highway. For the unacquainted, her father and grandfather are music legends Hank Williams Jr. and Sr., respectively. Not surprisingly, she possesses an earnest twang that cuts right to the core. Add to that matter-of-fact lyrics and all-star accompaniment from the likes of coproducer Charlie Peacock, multi-instrumentalist Chris Coleman, and Dierks Bentley, Jakob Dylan, Jackson Browne, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and you’ve got a Highway well worth traveling. Holly Williams plays at 8 p.m. Visit sohosb.com for info.