Peninsular Place

The Magazine

July 23, 2012

Youth Lagoon with Father John Misty @ the Crofoot [Review]


Father John Misty (Joshua Tillman) came to the Crofoot like a 21st century John the Baptist emerging from years in an emotional desert, armed with a notebook of enlightenments and a newfound enthusiasm for sharing his message. That’s a romanticized way to put it, but it’s not too far off. If you’re gonna leave a band like Fleet Foxes, you better have a damn good reason, I suppose. And he did. You can read all about it here.

When asked in that interview what fans could expect from his show last Friday, Tillman responded, “It’s like watching an epileptic clown give his final thesis for his speech writing class.” How accurate was his prediction? There were no clowns, but there seemed to be some seizures. And that quotation, initially bizarre and not much else, is actually pretty telling. There’s humor behind his cynicism, and his sarcasm is laced with truth. Let me explain.

Tall and thin, but not weak-looking, with a full beard and a fuller head of hair, Tillman had the look of someone who’s seen a lot and had enough time to process it. “Everybody got a drink? Everybody ready to dance?” He said his first words mildly, reinforcing everyone’s thought that the dance part was casual rhetoric, a second thought. It wasn’t – more on this in a minute. His latest album “Fear Fun” is his first as Father John Misty, and was penned on the road while he was writing a novel (which he was writing, from what I gather, to shake pretense and find his real voice). He returned with a voice that communicates desperation with humor, self-perception with confidence, and seeming revelations with a peculiar dryness. His lyrics truly stem from this new persona he’s created, as they play with Biblical themes and characters and, when appropriate, come paired with a self-aware sense of their own absurdity or irreverence. Note a line on the back cover of his album:

“Shake, rattle and despair, young ladies! Here comes Father John Misty!”

Or the lyrics to “Every Man Needs A Companion”:

“John the Baptist took Jesus Christ/Down to the river on a Friday night/They talked about Mary like a couple of boys…”

As it is with many great communicators, however, the words are only half the story. The other half is body language, and Tillman’s own unique dialect is a collection of dance moves which he performs almost constantly. They consist of some modest, old fashioned footwork, finger-snapping and handclapping, shoulder dipping, almost-slow-motion, uhh, gyrating… and occasional hand motions, all to effect a steadily cool countenance with a slow-burning intensity. That intensity came to a boiling point midway through “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” when the room went dark and strobe lights began to flicker and Tillman convulsed wildly on stage, tambourine in hand, in some musically-induced tantrum as the band extended the song into a prolonged jam-fest. You gotta appreciate a potent stage presence.

“This is for all the beautiful, neurotic, fucked up ballerinas in the audience,” was his intro to one song. As the music began, he continued: “I dated a ballerina once. It was ‘Black Swan’: the prequel.” And so the concert went, Tillman dancing and band jamming – a bassist, two guitarists, someone on keys and a drummer – as one cohesive assembly of musicians rather than a group of hired hands. I should mention, nothing about Father John Misty’s performance seemed like an opening set. There’s more to his story than I can pass along here (I’ve already crowded out Youth Lagoon a bit), but it’s revealed further in lyrics such as these, from “Now I’m Learning to Love the War”:

“Lets just call this what it is/The jealous side of mankind’s death wish/When it’s my time to go/Gonna leave behind things that won’t decompose.”

…and in this video below, and of course, the experience of seeing him dance out all that frustration on stage.

I’ve less to say about Youth Lagoon, the night’s headliners, because their performance appropriately reflected the origins of their music. Youth Lagoon is the creation of Trevor Powers, a small-town Idaho kid who was only twenty-two when he released last fall’s “The Year of Hibernation.” His first release as Youth Lagoon (he played in other bands prior), this critically-praised album of bedroom-produced electronic dream-pop was played in full on Friday night before a crowd who, upon settling down after Father John Misty’s set, was encouraged to embrace the stillness and sink into nostalgia.

Powers, cloaked in an oversized Hawaiian shirt with a pile of curly hobbit hair atop his boyish face, sat before a couple keyboards and a computer, and was joined by another person armed with an electric guitar. Warm-colored lights enveloped the keyboard stands, which were draped with shaggy blankets, and smoke machines spit clouds over the stage. The ambiance was mellow and affecting, perfect for these atmospheric songs that usually grew from a sort of somber tinkering into anthems worthy of fireworks.

Powers was mostly quiet, although he petitioned fans to follow some of his “desperate” friends on Twitter between songs. He played through his album masterfully, every note in the right place, and I encourage you to experience it for yourself sometime – whether in the solidarity of his live show or in repose through your headphones. As I’m writing this, I have the song “Montana” playing (video below), and the only other person in the room looks up and asks me “Who is this? I really like this.” I tell them it’s Youth Lagoon, and that it gets even better after the first listen.

About the Author

Paul Kitti
Paul Kitti
Paul is another awesome member of the iSPY team.

Mike Vial at Woodruff's


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