I have a theory about J. (Josh) Tillman (A.K.A Father John Misty) and his almost rabid popularity — at least among the young, hip indie crowd. My theory is that Tillman portrays the personality of Johnny Rotten through the eyes of millennials, and he does it using a comfort-food genre of music that draws on your parents’ heroes. His music cuts a path across popular country, straight into noisy psychedelia, but never leaves the comfort of the music your parents listened to: John Lennon, Neil Diamond, the gutsy sensuality of Jim Morrison — all of it stirring behind the guise of a young Kris Kristofferson.
Surprisingly, Father John Misty’s first visit to Denver was less than a year ago, a solo opening act testing out this post-Fleet Foxes project. His stage-slithering presence at the Gothic Theatre Tuesday night proved that he’s always been on the right track. The show was a gathering of Denver’s music scene elite — Nathaniel Rateliff and Patrick Meese were among the welcoming crowd that couldn’t fill the Ogden Theatre (hence the change of venue). J. Tillman even joked (with a bit of snark) about his own under-selling show and its move to the smaller Gothic Theatre in Englewood (see video below).
The band got some traditional country tunes over with quickly, before settling into the meat of Father John Misty’s forte. After priming the audience with the sarcasm of “Funtimes in Babylon” and ”Only Son of the Lady’s Man” (nod to Leonard Cohen acknowledged), the band led the audience into a heavy blend that included weighty tunes like “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2,” “Nancy from Now On,” “This is Sally Hatchet” and “Now I’m Learning to Love the War.”
The weight evaporated with the onset of “Every Man Needs A Companion” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” and the audience reaction bathed the Gothic in some needed levity.
In the first encore, Tillman played a new tune — an impassioned, punk distillation that might have been called “Bored in the USA.” The song begged for an answer to the flailing death of the American Dream. He wrapped up with a steamy cover of the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (sorely missing some healthy screaming) and “I Love You, Honey Bear.”