Father John Misty: Sept. 24 at The Wild Buffalo

crowd seemed to assemble earlier than usual at the Wild Buffalo for Father John Misty, early enough to catch the opener, out of character for Bellingham time. Maybe it was because it was a Monday; maybe it was because fate wanted everyone there early enough to see Jenny O. opening the show. In anticipation of a seemingly solo male performer named Aaron (as per publicity), my interest was piqued with a lone female and her Telecaster was found on stage strumming and looking a lot like Patti Smith. Her music was singer-songwriter, vocally driven, raw and powerful, periodically shifting between electric and acoustic. After listening to Jenny’s recorded music, it is my great pleasure that my first encounter with her was stripped down, allowing to take note of not only the well-crafted lyrics but also her deliberate delivery of each and every chord. As she exited the stage, everyone did one of those mutual look around and nod in agreement that, hey, that was not bad…not bad at all.

Gears were shifted and there was palpable testosterone in the room with the arrival of Joshua Tillman to the stage, for all intents and purposes this night, and presumably for the next phase of his career he will be “Father John Misty.” Every time he did seemingly ironic little hip thrust there was a tempting mind game (skip to the end and you’ll see he indeed played John Lennon’s “Mind Games”) drawing in the crowd. Is he serious? Is he messing with us? No one cares, he’s awesome.

To frame my mental state going into this show, I’ve seen Father John Misty one other time at Capitol Hill Block Party. It was at this time he told us how much he hated music festivals and played a sardonic, seemingly absent character that was entertaining and produced awesome music but also left you feeling like you were personally being mocked in attending. This interplay has most likely always existed but there are few musicians who look their hopeful fans in their day drunk festival faces and state the disdain. We all hope that artists and fans are mutually stoked, in a perfect world. But at the end of the day, Father John Misty was still one of my favorite new artists.

The beginning of his set seemed like a familiar stage being set. I felt like I knew what was coming, between songs waiting for a dry and sarcastic punch line. Hell, first thing he did was put on a button that said “I Hate Everyone.” But something was different this time, transitions started flowing and dare I say-the room was filled with mutually stoked artists and fans. Something much more transparent was emerging from the performance, it was completely believable and in a surprising turn of events, even sentimental. “I never liked the name Joshua, I got tired of J.”, Tillman sang in “Everyman needs a companion.” His newly adopted persona didn’t seem as put on as I’ve heard described by himself in interviews. I’m still fairly young and naïve, but this spoke to me in a hopeful sense of rebirth. Swimming in a fast-paced media based generation the concept of reinvention is becoming more accepted than in the past, if we don’t like what we’re becoming, or who we’ve been, we have the option to change our name and adopt some fun new dance moves.

Speaking more relevantly to the music of the night, Tillman was all album quality vocals, proving that he was always meant to be a front man. This could also be owed to Bellingham’s own Trevor Spencer who happens to be the touring sound tech for Father John Misty, talk about some street cred. Seemingly the whole album, Father John’s discography to date Fear Fun was covered over the course of the evening, a rare instance catching an artist in their rookie magic. Our only diversion came at the end; and for everyone there, the encore was one of those fuzzy, warm, “we’re all in this together” moments. Maybe this always happens when a cover of “Do You Realize?” is played, and this also could be blown to new levels when it’s intro-d by a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” but whether this was a cheap shot at the audience’s nostalgic heart strings or not, once again there was something much more believable there than performance art.

Looking back through retired Fleet Foxes youtube videos, searching for hints of J. Tillman greatness after this show I begin to ask myself how many sarcastic drummers are out there waiting to be unleashed. This prospect leaves me feeling optimistic.