Father John Misty and the Walkmen Try (and Fail) to Co-Headline the Fillmore, 1/24/13
Father John Misty at the Fillmore last night.
Father John Misty
Thurdsay, Jan. 24, 2013
Better than: Seeing the Walkmen alone.
The concept of co-headliners is a false one. Yes, it's great to get two noteworthy acts for the price of one. And bands of a similar stature can tour together, share the same line on a marquee, possibly even rotate who plays last. But unless it's a unique situation -- take last year's St. Vincent and David Byrne tour, weaving each other's solo tunes in-between shared ventures -- one band will inevitably outshine the other. At The Fillmore on Thursday, the playing order was the opposite of what it should have been. Father John Misty came out first.
From the initial chord of "Only Son of a Ladiesman," through the end of the set, the room's attention was acutely directed to lead singer Josh Tillman. He charmed the crowd with caricature-esque banter about who wanted to hear "Freebird," but he was clearly classically versed in the art of working a stage. His dancing -- some combination of Elvis's hips, Jim Morrison's full-body wiggle, and the over-the-top nature of a well spirited, drunk aunt -- was immensely gripping. He came across as a James Brown type, always having a sense of the moment and leaving everything on stage. At the end of "Well, You Can Do It Without Me," Tillman even milked the ending in that familiar Brown way: a fermata hold on every single phrase with general pauses following each. "You can do it... but, you can do it... without...me."
Father John Misty feeds off its frontman, so everything in the band's set came across as playful. After the moment above, Tillman acknowledged the applause with "Thank you for cheering, that would be too high-concept if you didn't." The frontman slipped in an explicit Rebecca Black reference during "Now I'm Learning To Love The War," just as the entire song arrived at the climax. And as the crowd booed the Dodgers reference in "Only Son of a Ladiesman," the band members simply chuckled and played on. Their set never lost energy and kept everyone dancing, even on the ballad-esque "Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2" or the driving "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings."
The Walkmen headlined the evening with an approach that was starkly different. It wasn't bad by any means, but after Father John Misty, it felt like the air had been let out of the room. Hamilton Leithauser would have no prancing on his stage. He and The Walkmen are at their peak when they are exposing contrasts. Take the ending of "We Can't Be Beat": The band slipped into a repeating pattern while Leithauser, in a dapper suitjacket and tie, wailed into the mic, causing his neck veins to bulge. The intensity of his voice cut through the laid-back nature of everything else to demand the audience's attention, no dancing necessary. His lyrical style may invoke Dylan at times with its jumbled delivery, but the closest comparison for Leithauser is really Matt Berninger of The National: the sheer tenacity of his loud moments give his quieter ones an almost eerie sense of power.
But the juxtaposition that makes The Walkmen great wasn't consistently present throughout their set. Things lagged after a stretch that started fast with "Blue As Your Blood," and "Angela Surf City" but ended with crowd energy growing stagnant through "Stranded" and "I Lost You." The addition of a few Magik*Magik Orchestra brass players (three trumpets and a trombone) was a cool moment for local musicians, but it also seemed to draw the Walkmen away from what they do best. The combination of "We Can't Be Beat" and "Heaven" soon after showed just what heights The Walkmen can reach on their own.
As those last notes of "Heaven" hit, Leithauser interacted with the crowd more than he had all evening, thanking everyone and shaking hands. The Walkmen truly came across as the gentleman Tillman described them as earlier. But as the applause started up to rile them back to the stage, it was hard to make it feel genuine. I turned to a friend next to me and asked, "If we clap hard enough, maybe we'll get Father John Misty out here?"
Her response: "We should be so lucky."
Drink of choice: For one more weird Leithauser-Berninger comparison: Berninger has been known to take the stage with a glass of red wine, a relatively unusual choice for rockers. Leithauser appeared to slug back a glass of white wine -- before opting for a beer during the encore.
Second time around: It's not often you review a band you've reviewed before, but I've written about both Father John Misty (last year at Bottom of the Hill) and The Walkmen (Cornell University, 2010). Oddly enough, each was noticeably better the second time around -- though that's truly saying something for anyone who attended Tillman and co. at BoTH. The Walkmen may have suffered from same stage comparisons that first show -- they opened for Phoenix, which was just coming off the smash success of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
Father John Misty setlist
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Nancy From Now On
I'm Writing A Novel
This is Sally Hatchet
Well, You Can Do It Without Me
Now I'm Learning to Love the War
Tee Pees 1-12
Everyman Needs a Companion
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
The Walkmen setlist
On The Water
In The New Year
Woe is Me
Line By Line
Blue As Your Blood
Angela Surf City
I Lost You
We Can't Be Beat
We've Been Had