Father John Misty at the Santa Barbara Bowl, August 13, 2023 | Photo: Ingrid Bostrom

It was an evening filled with hearts on sleeves and tongues firmly in cheek. The Sunday night double headliner bill of The Head And The Heart and Father John Misty at the Bowl showcased two completely different shades of impressive vocal chops that could not have been more at odds in terms of style. 

Jonathan Russell, left, and Matt Gervais of The Head And The Heart at the Santa Barbara Bowl, August 13, 2023 | Photo: Ingrid Bostrom

Building on the momentum from their 2022 album Every Shade Of Blue — a pandemic-influenced, soul-searching, gem of a record — along with a strong showing of fans from more than a decade of touring, The Head And The Heart gave a super tight, solid performance. They are clearly back in the groove of live shows, playing a confident set of hits old and new, with each of the singing band members — vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Russell, violinist/vocalist/guitarist Charity Rose Thielen, and guitarist/vocalist Matt Gervais — harmonizing beautifully, but also having their own time to shine in the spotlight. 

I liked them last year at the Bowl and this time around, knowing the music much better,  I kind of loved them. I’m particularly partial to The Head And The Heart’s harmonies in “Tiebreaker,” as well as Thielen’s haunting vocal gymnastics in “Honeybee,” not to mention the now iconic “Rivers and Roads,” (circa 2010) with the beautiful lines, “Nothin’ is as it has been / And I miss your face like hell / And I guess it’s just as well / But I miss your face like hell.”

If The Head And The Heart’s set was the epitome of “tight,” Father John Misty’s was the epitome of “loose,” with an eccentric sonic palette that was entertaining, if not always easy to make sense of. 

Sure he’s known for being sarcastically comedic, but was he being subversive by playing a good deal of the set in the dark, and messing around with the sound reverb to the point that I saw several people covering their ears? Or were the tech cues just a bit off, perhaps the crew was exhausted after having played Outside Lands earlier that weekend? I honestly have no idea. But with his wacky lyrics a big part of why he’s so beloved, it’s kind of tough when you can’t hear them.

But Father John Misty’s voice is inarguably beautiful, his humor is oddball charming, and his lanky physicality is awfully fun to watch as he’s often half dancing, half drunkenly stopping just short of stumbling — when there’s enough light to see it. 

Father John Misty at the Santa Barbara Bowl, August 13, 2023 | Photo: Ingrid Bostrom

He’s a zany dude to be sure, and part of his appeal is that unpredictability — you don’t quite know which way he’s going to go, kind of like that guy ranting on the street who actually sounds kind of poetic if you listen to him long enough — and you can hear him. 

I got echoes of Glen Campbell in “Goodbye Mr. Blue,” a song he dedicated to “all the dead pets in god’s beautiful world,” as he sang about a cat who had passed on with “one down, eight to go, but it’s no less true.” And the “fake jazz” antics of “Chloë,” which has a jazzy Hollywood sound  in stark contrast to lyrics like “Of downtown art criticism / I benefit more than I should admit / From her unscrupulous therapist / How Benzedrine supposed to address / Your shoplifting’s? anybody’s guess.” 

It’s pure poetry, right. I’m not sure what else to make of it, but I’m pretty sure that part, at least, was intentional. 


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