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REVIEW: A ‘bad day’ made a little less so with Father John Misty

Amanda O'Donnell
09/29/17 Suzanne Cordeiro/ for American-Statesman Father John Misty performs at Bass Concert Hall at The University of Texas Performing Arts Center in Austin, Texas.

Father John Misty might not top the list of performers you’d want to see the day after a national tragedy.

The singer, whose real name is Josh Tillman, is infamously irreverent and political. He writes songs about humans as if he is watching them from above. He’s divisive, often stamped “polarizing” and branded “the most self-important asshole on earth” by Ryan Adams. He inspires takes like, “Father John Misty knows you think he’s a jerk, and he uses it to his advantage.” Just when you thought you might really see eye to eye on something, he stood up for Nickelback

READ: Father John Misty stared at his phone during the eclipse at a Texas Buc-ee’s, because of course he did

Worst (best?) of all, Tillman knows all these things. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s “too much.” He knows he’s pretentious, usually sounds like he’s proud to be and discredits his critics by beating them at their own game.

But from the very start of Father John Misty’s Bass Concert Hall performance Monday night, his second engagement after a Friday show in the same venue, the singer struck exactly the right chord.

“It’s a bad day,” he said simply. “But I’m very happy you’re here.”

That was right before he sang a line about having virtual reality sex with Taylor Swift, but still. 

Normally Tillman’s lyrics sound sardonic. Facetious. It can feel like he’s trolling you. And also everyone.

But Monday, beneath an enormous artificial moon, songs that sound like they’re written by someone observing tiny, amusing ant-humans are a relief. Hearing Earth called a “godless rock that refuses to die” feels good. A plea, “Save me, President Jesus,” strikes a higher note of irony. “And we say it's just human, human nature/This place is savage and unjust,” couldn’t hit harder.

That’s why you’re swayed all the more by Tillman’s crooned appeal in set-closer “I Love You, Honeybear”: “Everything is doomed/ And nothing will be spared.” Check. “But don’t give into despair/’Cause I love you, Honeybear.”

PHOTOS: Father John Misty at Bass Concert Hall

Well, okay. 

In the encore, Tillman addressed the Las Vegas tragedy again, saying, “Days like today, it does feel very weird to do this, but I’m so happy you’re here. It doesn’t feel totally useless -- my new age tunes of despair. I’m very happy you’re here. I’m happy that you’re safe, and I look forward to coming back.”

Because like he sang, Father John Misty hates to say it, but will: “Each other’s all we’ve got.” And that means him, too.