Sonoma, CA – It’s not often I travel up to a random auditorium in the middle of wine country to see a concert, but for Father John Misty’s show at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Hall, I did just that. Josh Tillman—the man behind Father John Misty—will be releasing his second LP under the FJM moniker—I Love You Honeybear—on Sub Pop Records next month, and prior to its release, he plotted a mini tour through California’s lesser known locales to preview its material (other dates include places like rural Chico, north of Sacramento; and Felton, just north of Santa Cruz).
Sonoma’s Vets Hall features a sprawling auditorium (the size of a modest high school’s), a ballroom (where the bar was situated), and a large patio for the smokers to convene. There was even a parking lot, in which plenty of concertgoers—mostly 20/30-something urbanites like myself—were tailgating with craft beers and Thermoses filled to the brim with red wine. The sold-out crowd also included mothers with babies strapped to their chests, and a fair amount of older folks who set up camp in folding chairs along the perimeter of the auditorium.
Father John Murphy had no opener for this show, though the singer and his band graced the stage about 30 minutes after the advertised start time of 9 pm. Tillman gleefully trotted onto the stage, his wiry frame filling much of the space as he took exaggerated steps and his long arms swayed from front to back as he moved. He began greeting individuals in the audience with playful inquiries of, “Oh you got in? Oh nice! You got in, too?!” His acerbic, witty repartee with his audience is one of the main reasons why his fans are so eager to see him live, and no one was surprised when, after his greetings, he shouted, “Ok shut up now and listen to my feelings!”
As the laughter and hooting died down, Tillman began his set with two new tracks, starting with his new album’s title track, “I Love You Honeybear,” followed by the eerie-sounding-but-altogether-still-cheeky “Strange Encounter.” After these two tracks, FJM warned his crowd that we would be hearing “a lot of shit [we’re] not gonna know,” which was both true and untrue. The set was definitely constructed to highlight the new album, but he played pretty much every song off his first album as well. Between old favorites like “Son of the Ladies’ Man,” “I’m Writing a Novel,” and “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2,” came new classics, like the soulful “When Your Smiling and Astride Me,” the ever-so-delightful “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”—in which he tears down the faux-intelligence of pretentious party-goers—and “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” Honeybear’s peppy second proper single.
Some people were hoping for more new music at times, as was evident in the tone of a fellow attendee behind me who muttered, “I didn’t come here for nostalgia,” during a block of Fear Fun tracks “Nancy From Now On,” “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” and “This is Sally Hatchet.” But new material was on the way, as a slew of Honeybear tracks followed: the gritty “The Ideal Husband” and “Bored in the USA,” the album’s first single, a heartfelt requiem for the American dream that was very touching.
After the main set’s conclusion, Tillman returned to the stage in victory lap fashion, and began the three-song encore with a delicious cover of a Leonard Cohen song (“Get those iPhones out!”), “I’m Your Man.” This was briskly followed by the raucous and jaunty “Tee-Pees 1-12” and finally, the sweet, gooey sounds of Fear Fun closer “Every Man Needs A Companion,” after which came thunderous applause.
The combination of the prospect of hearing songs from his new album live, the energy of the crowd, and the overall bizarreness of the venue in general really made the performance quite memorable. I was certainly glad to catch this tour in a more intimate light, as it was a somewhat rare opportunity (especially since he is making the festival rounds this year); it really did make that evening special. (Ed., to read a 2013 live review of Father John Misty, click here.)