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Review: Father John Misty, down on his knees to please at the Fillmore

Sold out in Fishtown on Saturday night.

Long-legged, limber and down on his knees to please, indie beardo Father John Misty, who played the Fillmore in Fishtown on Saturday, is the leading earnest-slash-ironic love man of the day.

Does he really mean it, man? He does, though sometimes it can be hard to tell. I Love You, Honeybear, the 2015 album that has catapulted the guitarist and former Fleet Foxes drummer to a level of popularity that sells out a 2,500-capacity venue, is at bottom a heartfelt ode to marital bliss with his wife Emma.

But it also wrestles gamely with the challenge of making happily besotted singer-songwriter music that neither reduces itself to cloying cliche nor trips itself up by regarding pop music conventions from an intellectual distance.

It's a tricky business, and as attracted to subversion as Misty is, he's also aware of the danger of falling into the trap of making music that's most impressive for its clever construction and knowing attitude.

Back in 2014 when he debuted the Honeybear lead track "Bored In The U.S.A." - making sly reference to Bruce Springsteen and the Clash - on Late Night with David Letterman, he scored performance art points with a jarring pre-recorded laugh track that placed quotations marks around the performance. When that point in the song arrives now, however, the audience dutifully recreates the sound effects on cue, and it all comes off a little too pat and self-satisfied.   

Mostly, though, he succeeded in putting his country-rock-leaning songs across passionately with the help of a sharp, five-piece band, and singing with more full-throated (but clearly enunciated) fervor than you might expect from his easily listenable records.  

"Father John Misty" is, of course, itself a construct. The real name of the singer raised in an evangelical Christian household that he has called "culturally oppressive," is Joshua Tillman. He released several albums as J. Tillman before switching to his current moniker with Fear Fun in 2012.

Early on Saturday night, "Every Man Needs A Companion," explained his personal transformation with the lyric: "Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones couldn't give me a myth / So I made up my own."

That Fear Fun song pointed ahead to the complicated embracing of maturity and monogamy that's deftly explored on Honeybear, which made up the core of Saturday night's crowd-pleasing, 100-minute set.

After peaking with the title cut, he returned for a three-song encore.  An acoustic "I Went To The Store One Day," about meeting his wife in the parking lot of the Laurel Canyon Country Store in Los Angeles, was followed by a strobe-lit semi-industrial take on Nine Inch Nails' bestial "Closer."

He referred to the NIN cut as "my favorite love song," but didn't quite succeed in making it his own. The equally noisy, self-mocking "The Ideal Husband," about a possibly reformed cad, which closed out the show with a nod to Oscar Wilde, was more convincingly lived in.

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