Father John Misty pulls out all the stops with a flair for the dramatic: review

Father John Misty

The charismatic performer kicked off his North American tour on Friday night with a sold-out show at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

Nick Krewen

Music, Sat. May 6, 2017

Father John Misty at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, May 5, 2017

It was nothing short of epic.

At the Friday night kickoff of his North American tour and the first of two sold-out evenings at the Royal Alex Theatre, Father John Misty pulled out all the stops with the charismatic wherewithal of an A-list entertainer.

For starters, there was a 15-piece band that included an eight-piece string section and a couple of musicians who doubled on brass and woodwinds to help faithfully reproduce much of the material from Misty’s latest album, Pure Comedy, which dominated the first half of the concert.

Second, was the setting itself. The Royal Alex may seem like an unconventional venue for a rock concert, but Misty has proven himself to be somewhat of an unconventional performer, with a flair for the dramatic that seemed right at home with the historic theatre.

Starting at the stroke of 9 p.m. with a powerful rendition of “Pure Comedy,” and freed from the confines of any instrument, Misty employed the best techniques of a fire-and-brimstone preacher — without the histrionics — as he used hand gestures to make it feel like he was addressing you directly, and later shimmied around the stage and dropped to his knees clutching the mic as the song reached its crescendo and sonic colours exploded around him.

And that was just the first eight minutes or so. Throughout the next 17 songs, Misty, occasionally strapping on an acoustic guitar, invoked a lot of techniques that aren’t commonplace in many of today’s contemporary shows — dynamic ebbs and flows within the song arrangements and pauses in between certain lines to emphasize the emotional weight of their impact.

The binding factor in all of this presentation was the music, and if that seems like an obvious statement, those who have followed the good Father’s career know that Pure Comedy, a cynical, honest and tragic take on human nature, is a very different album than his first two.

Not a songwriter to indulge in choruses, Misty’s observations about the shallow and soulless require a direct connection to get his messages across, and he achieved that goal with his delivery. It was an almost intangible part of his performance, yet one never got the impression that any of his movements were anything less than genuine or in complete service to his music.

Misty’s authenticity was what elevated his performance from good to riveting, especially so during “When The God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay” and “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution.”

It wasn’t until “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” that Misty dipped into his back catalogue, spending most of the back half caroming between I Love You, Honeybear and Fear Fun, his strong tenor gliding effortlessly into falsetto whenever the occasion demanded.

Of his back catalogue, only one song underwent a vivid transformation: “I’m Writing a Novel” was played as a relaxed country shuffle.

It was a gentle and appreciated left turn by a singer and songwriter who, it seems, is just entering his prime.

Now, there may not be much optimism on Pure Comedy and maybe we’ve doomed ourselves as a society.

But if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, at least Father John Misty — who returns to Toronto for a Massey Hall gig on September 18 — is getting us there in style.

Father John Misty pulls out all the stops with a flair for the dramatic: review | Toronto Star

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