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“A writer has to be driven crazy to help him see. A writer needs his poisons.” Philip Roth — the author whom artist Joshua Tillman cites to best describe the choice behind his latest moniker, Father John Misty — also encompasses much of the attitude of Tillman’s live performance. This past weekend, he and the rest of his band stopped by El Rey Theatre to treat a hometown crowd to material from the project’s debut, Fear Fun. The product of a wanderlust movement with a shroom-packed van and no plan in sight has easily topped the list of my favorite albums of 2012.

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Taking the stage before a sold-out theatre, Father John Misty started the night with Fear Fun’s introductory track, “Fun Times in Babylon.” Heavy applause and loud cheering erupted before the first song’s completion during a short break precluding the bridge. “Shut up.” Tillman’s abrupt initial address to the crowd was soon explained: “I spilled my drink already, God damn.” Not to worry; Tillman scooped up his Jameson and proceeded to drink his remaining whiskey straight from the bottle for the rest of the evening.

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To hear the songs live is, of course, a great additional experience, but let’s not forget Tillman’s uncanny ability to move across the stage in a way that would make some exotic dancers blush. Sultry hips, animated gestures, and striking facial expressions contrasted Tillman’s misanthropic rhetoric and candid quips. The anthemic sounds of “This is Sally Hatchet” echo the acid-age years of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper era while an extended drum introduction to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” momentarily withdrew from the folk genre and earned instant recognition and thorough applause from the crowd as the set’s final number.

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Tillman’s previous musical endeavors include time with Saxon Shore, self-titled solo projects, and drum work in Fleet Foxes, but there’s no doubt that his frontman status in Father John Misty is his least inhibited and most sincere outlet; it’s certainly the most entertaining display we’ve seen from Tillman and my favorite. But regardless, the performance, the songwriting, and Tillman’s smooth, hearty vocals proved to be not only my choice project for 2012, but also an excellent way to close out the year.

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For more info:

Father John Misty’s Facebook
Father John Misty’s Official Website