Father John Misty delivers in Athens

Photo courtesy of Sub Pop

For two nights only, October 1st and 2nd, Father John Misty blessed the Georgia Theatre stage in Athens with his presence. Misty was initially only going to play a show on October 1st; a second night was added when tickets sold out within a few weeks. 

The shows were stops on the North American leg of Father John’s most recent world tour. The tour features his fourth album, “God’s Favorite Customer.” Since his debut in 2012 with “Fear Fun,” Father John Misty, an alter ego of artist Josh Tillman, has been an indie-rock staple. Shorter and more subdued than his other albums, Misty’s latest installment shows the growth of the artist. Its songs paint a picture of a more self-aware man, coming to terms with who he is; still cynical, still outrageous, still dissatisfied, but also more hopeful and grounded than in any of his other works. 

As the show began, Father John stepped onto a dark, silent stage and without a greeting, immediately opened the show with “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” He played through two more songs before he finally addressed the crowd, asking “How is everybody tonight?” This question was only answered with raucous, incoherent cheers. 

The overall visual impact of the performance was nothing special. Though the band was visible behind him, they were never referenced. This show was all about Father John. The stage was backlit with changing colors, and was foggy. Misty wore simple black jeans, a white button-up, and a black blazer.

The most notable aspect of his appearance were the Ray-Bans he wore throughout the entire set. Even though it was 9 p.m. — and indoors. These gave him a sort of aloof, holier-than-thou, rocker vibe that paired well with his self-absorbed lyrics. 

Throughout the show, Father John performed a good mix of new hits and old favorites. As he went from song to song, a stagehand would come out and give him a new guitar for each piece. The setlist featured songs from a combination of Father John’s four studio albums, all of which have vastly different themes; some are odes to his wife, some are comedic, substance-fueled rants, others are ballads decrying capitalism. Central to all, however, is a paradoxically narcissistic yet self-loathing tone. 

For most songs, his dancing comprised of just a subtle sway of his hips and some animated strumming. For more lively pieces, like “Total Entertainment Forever,” he would flail around the stage like a man possessed. Despite his moves being disjointed and awkward, there was a sort of exuberance that came from the spectacle, like someone dancing while nobody’s watching.

The crowd showed huge diversity. From middle aged couples, to edgy teens, to average Joes, everyone swayed and sung along. It was far from the homogenous group of hipsters that was expected. The majority of those in attendance knew even the most complex lyrics, and weren’t afraid to belt them out. During Father John’s performance of “Hangout at the Gallows” the crowd was incredibly animated. Misty listened on towards the end of the song as those in attendance chanted the repeated lyrics “What’s your politics? What’s your religion?”

During catchy fan favorites like “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” and “Real Love Baby” the energy in the room was palpable. Every word was met by cheers from the crowd. Father John played off of this excitement by increasing the energy of his flailing and lifting the microphone, stand and all, from the stage and waving it around his head. While erratic, like most of his other dancing, his actions were comical and complemented absurd lyrics like “Emma eats bread and butter / like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine.” 

At one point, in the silence between two songs a man from the back yelled out “We love you Josh Tillman!” Many hooted and hollered in agreement. When those finally died down, all that Father John had to offer was a sarcastic “Who’s that?” 

Overall, the concert lasted a few hours that felt like mere minutes. It was a performance like none other, with the hyperbolic personality of Father John Misty front and center the entire time. Though Father John eschews and mocks religion, there is no doubt his concerts evoke a spiritual, sermon-like vibe which gives his shows a unique appeal.