On the Saturday night preceding Halloween, attendees at Lee’s Palace sold-out show seemed positively rabid for Father John Misty, a.k.a. J. Tillman (a.k.a. Josh Tillman), when the lanky former drummer of Fleet Foxes sauntered onstage. With a bottle of Jameson whiskey in hand, Tillman and his five-piece band opened their set with “Funtimes in Babylon,” which is also the opener on FJM’s debut album, Fear Fun.
With Tillman’s previous connection to bearded folk heroes Fleet Foxes and the overall folky, country-esque sound of Fear Fun, I expected this show to be… well, folky and have a laidback, chill-out vibe. I was wrong and I was pleasantly surprised. While his wholesome voice on record evokes a mental image of some sort of angelic lumberjack choirboy, Tillman is saucy, boisterous, and downright kooky on stage. Though drunkenness undoubtedly played a part, he was undeniably charismatic, charming and quite a character.
Peppering his performance with gyrating hips and pelvic thrusts, Tillman at times threw his arms up above his head with wild abandon, dancing like a drunken sorority girl at the clubs. He took frequent swigs from his whiskey bottle, alternating at times with a bottle of beer. With the juxtaposition of these un-folk-singer-like actions paired with his beautiful, emotive voice, Tillman exuded a raw magnetism that made it impossible to look away. Enamored women in the audience screamed when Tillman removed the overcoat he initially wore on stage, and again when he removed his olive green button-up shirt to reveal a ripped, threadbare t-shirt. He deadpanned with a promise to “take it all off” before the show was done to more delighted screams.
The show had its Halloween moment when Tillman professed his appreciation for Toronto and asked audience members to lend him pieces from their costumes, so that he could “dress up as a Toronto person dressed up for Halloween.” Over the next few songs, Tillman donned various costume pieces contributed by audience members: a (politically incorrect) feathered headdress, top hat and suede-looking domino mask, to which he announced he “couldn’t wait until the orgy later, a la Eyes Wide Shut” as he tied it on.
The band played through most of the songs from Fear Fun, sounding better and livelier than on record. Set highlights included “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” “Tee Pees 1-12” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.”
Preceding FJM’s headlining set was LA-based La Sera, fronted by Katy Goodman from Vivian Girls. Wearing a white lace dress (the same one she wore in La Sera’s recent music video for “Break My Heart”) with her hair held in a high ponytail with a scrunchie, Goodman jokingly announced she was a “Valley girl” for Halloween.
Goodman, backed by her three-piece band energetically powered through their set with songs from both La Sera albums – “Never Come Around,” “Love That’s Gone,” “It’s Over Now” and the dark-sounding “Drive On,” which Goodman said would be appropriate as a Halloween song. The band also played a new song, which had Goodman switching to guitar-playing duties instead of her usual bass. A set highlight was a pleasantly surprising cover of Elvis Presley’s “His Latest Flame.”