A subdued excitement hung in the air as fans eagerly awaited the emergence of Father John Misty onto the hallowed stage of Red Rocks Amphitheatre. As Josh Tillman’s stage name suggests, Father John Misty has become something of a spiritual figure to many of his followers, a bearded, mystic sage whose way of looking at the world seems to vibrate with those who have been disillusioned by it. FJM’s latest album, Pure Comedy, delivers sometimes scathing observations on religious and socio-political issues. And it was with the first four songs from Pure Comedy that Father John Misty chose to open up his headlining debut at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
But first Boisie-based rock band Built To Spill got the crowd warmed up in lieu of Jenny Lewis, who canceled her Red Rocks performance with FJM last Monday (Aug. 21) due to “unforeseen circumstances.” Built To Spill received the call and were all too happy to play Red Rocks, as frontman and guitarist Doug Martsch told the crowd during the band’s set. Built To Spill's sound encompasses the complete evolution of grunge, from Neil Young to Nirvana. As with most grunge bands, their sound got a bit chaotic and out of control at points. But the set had its moments, although Jenny Lewis was certainly missed, especially by Tillman who said as much during his set.
After Built To Spill finished their set, roadies scurried around the stage as the sun went down, getting ready for FJM’s substantial band, which included horns and strings. As mentioned above, Tillman’s opening volley was the first four songs from Pure Comedy: “Pure Comedy,” “Total Entertainment Forever,” “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” and “Ballad of a Dying Man.” While Tillman seems to be opening most of his shows this way (he kicked off his Coachella set in April with the same opening suite), all four songs are amazing and capture a different aspect of what it means to be alive in the early 21st century, such as rapidly advancing technology, social media, environmental issues and the irrelevance of religion. Tillman then returned to old favorites.
The middle of the set focussed heavily on songs from Tillman’s critically-acclaimed 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear, including “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" and “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow.” Tillman then looped back to more material from Pure Comedy with “When the God of Love Returns There'll Be Hell to Pay,” “Birdie” and “A Bigger Paper Bag.” No matter what Tillman played, he delivered a passionate performance; whether flying around the stage swinging his mic stand or falling to his knees while clutching his microphone, Tillman’s prowess as a showman was certainly on display.
To close out his set, he once again returned to older favorites including “Bored in the USA” from I Love You, Honeybear; “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” from FJM’s debut album, Fear Fun; and the stellar 2016 single “Real Love Baby.” Tillman closed out his set with the title track from I Love You, Honeybear to rapturous applause, only to return to deliver a three-song encore of Pure Comedy’s “So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” Honeybear’s “Holy Shit” and “The Ideal Husband” to close out the show.
While it's difficult to know how Josh Tillman might feel about the classification, his show was something of a spiritual experience, with all the trappings of an Evangelical revival. This is no surprise considering the setting, one of the most spiritual music venues in the world, and the fact that Tillman came up in an Evangelical household. The irony comes in the fact that he often rails against organized religion, especially Christianity. But irony and sarcasm are two of Tillman's most powerful weapons, and just because something is spiritual doesn't mean it is also religious. There's no doubt that Tillman's performance at Red Rocks was something that many of those present will carry with them for some time.
Father John Misty continues his Pure Comedy tour into the fall. Click here to browse AXS for tickets to select Father John Misty dates.