Father John Misty: The Persona

Santa Barbara's Arlington Theater Goes for Tillman’s Persona

Father John Misty plays the Arlington Theatre
Paul Wellman

He’s as big a rock star as we’ve got right now, and he’s not even a real person. Father John Misty, the crackpot persona invented by former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman, took the Arlington by storm on Wednesday night, delivering 22 spectacular songs in his best, most alarmingly ambiguous manner — sincere and sarcastic, simple and complex, yearning to be decent yet somehow coming out profane.

Father John Misty plays the Arlington Theatre
Paul Wellman

The transformation that this performer has undergone over the past decade has to be one of the strangest in the recent history of popular music. As J. Tillman, he released moody, sensitive singer/songwriter material to some critical acclaim, and then he joined Fleet Foxes in 2008 as a drummer. In 2012, he quit Fleet Foxes and released Fear Fun, his first album under the pseudonym Father John Misty. He followed that with two strikingly original works of grandly orchestral and subversive pop, I Love You, Honeybear (2015) and Pure Comedy (2017). It’s primarily the latter releases, along with a series of bizarre interviews and essays in cultural criticism (?!) that have earned him a rabid following that appreciates the deft way he mixes contemporary snark with mesmerizing traditional rock songcraft. He gave new meaning to the phrase “air guitar” on this night when he tossed an expensive Martin acoustic nearly 20 feet high for a stagehand to catch, and the gesture fit perfectly with the rest of the show, which was dynamic, daring, and unforgettable.

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