April Fools' Day was just the right time for Josh Tillman's caustic alter ego, Father John Misty, to sell out Union Transfer. He even played up to the occasion by singing his first song - a hammy and richly lustrous "I Love You, Honeybear" - then exiting the stage with a "good night" and lights up. "That was a nice trick," he said later in the evening.
Whether regaling the crowd with dry, sardonic wit; finger-pointing nightclub shtick; self-deprecating lyrics; or mock disgust (as in his cosmopolitan/countryish "The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment," which did all these at once), Misty was exactly what indie-pop in general needs right now: someone messy with a sense of humor.
His indie-clique pedigree (drumming for Fleet Foxes, Saxon Shore) and beardo look give him the cred to go for the laughs. His love of Flannery O'Connor and Harry Nilsson imbues his humor with earnest intelligence. Yet he can maintain an elusive and weirdly comic viewpoint.
Misty seemed sincere in the lonely "Every Man Needs a Companion." Or he could be wise and slightly silly, ticking off couplings such as "John the Baptist and Jesus Christ" and "Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones." Even covering Leonard Cohen's dry and chilly "I'm Your Man" showed corrosive cool to 21st-century indie-perfection.
It seemed natural for Misty to maintain sarcastic bite while intoning the jaded text to "Bored in the USA." His breathy singing in lines such as "I grow more disappointing to you as my beauty warps and fades / I suspect you feel the same" was smashing. In a stompy "True Affection," he discussed the art of "crazy conversation."
Misty's lyrics and big, willowy voice (his vocals really were graceful and soaring) were powered by the music he and his band made, a churning, Bad Seeds-ish take on '60s-ish C&W/pop and Jimmy Webb-like grandeur. "I'm Writing a Novel" was a plucky, hillbilly powerhouse in which Misty ranted about psychedelic experiences with nervous glee. "Château Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" was soft major chords and supple rhythms with all the atmosphere of a Vegas desert night. "Nancy from Now On" was a musical anomaly with layered synths, but certainly not its intro - "pour me another drink and punch me in the face."
On April Fools', Father John Misty earned his beardo superstar badge. It's well-deserved and certainly no joke.