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Father John Misty brings big band energy to the Palace

Father John Misty played two nights at the Palace in St. Paul, joined by opener Suki Waterhouse.
Father John Misty played two nights at the Palace in St. Paul, joined by opener Suki Waterhouse.Sara Fish for MPR

by Joel Swenson and Sara Fish

October 03, 2022

By his own admission, Father John Misty is astounded that he’s out on the road performing at all right now — but not because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As he puts it: “I set out to make something completely untourable, but here we are.”

He’s speaking of his latest album, Chloë and the Next 20th Century, an impressive feat that calls to mind a bygone era of huge jazz ensembles and charismatic big band leaders. During two shows at the Palace this past weekend, Father John (aka Josh Tillman) proved that he failed miserably in what he set out to do. Chloë and the Next 20th Century isn’t just tourable, it was made to be toured.

Before Tillman took the stage, opener Suki Waterhouse treated the awaiting crowd to a brief but powerful 35-minute, nine-song set. The London-based singer, model, and actress is certainly no stranger to the spotlight (especially considering she’s been partnered with Robert Pattinson since 2018). But she is a relative newcomer to the stage, with Friday’s Palace show marking only the eighth date of her first tour ever.

Person dances in front of their band and yellow lights
Father John Misty played two nights at the Palace in St. Paul, joined by opener Suki Waterhouse.
Sara Fish for MPR

Waterhouse had some noticeable nerves as she approached the mic to start things off with “Moves,” the biggest single off her 2022 debut, I Can’t Let Go. As the set progressed, those nerves quickly subsided, and she comfortably settled into her time on the stage. As is unfortunately the case with many lesser-known opening acts, there was a lot of crowd chatter throughout the first couple songs of the set. (Writer’s note: stop talking through opening bands!) By the start of song three (“Devil I Know”), Waterhouse had captivated the crowd, and the murmur was silenced.

Waterhouse and her three-piece backing band were surrounded by the extensive Father John Misty backline (more on that later). It gave the illusion that they were playing in the middle of a music store or high school band room rather than on the Palace’s 100-plus-year-old stage. 

Suki Waterhouse is clearly destined for bigger things, and there are definitely some headlining tours in her future. Her voice and charm made the entire room want more as she wrapped up her final song (“Good Looking”) and exited the stage with a beaming smile and a gentle wave. Immediately, the crowd chatter began to rise again, but the usual show banter was replaced with praise for Waterhouse.

The opening set ended at around 8:35 p.m., with Father John Misty not set to go on until 9:05. While a 30-minute changeover may seem like a bit much considering the backline was already on stage and set up, it makes sense considering what that backline all entailed. (Remember the music store/band room comparison from before?) Father John’s backing band is really more of a backing orchestra, complete with drums, horns, woodwinds, guitars, an electric upright bass, keyboards, electric pianos, auxiliary percussion, and probably a dozen other things not visible from the crowd. That’s a ton of levels to check, mics to test, and spit valves to empty in only 30 minutes!

Finally, the moment arrived, and the band members filed on stage and over to their respective stations to warm up with a brief instrumental. The man himself followed shortly thereafter, taking his place at the front in an almost comically baggy suit to immediately launch into “I Love You, Honeybear.” His many flitting hand gestures were captured in shadow on the massive stone walls on either side of the Palace stage as he belted out each sarcastically loving line. All the while, the band swelled to create a massive wall of sound when the song called for it and dissipated down as needed, furthering the performance’s orchestral feel.

Side view of the singer pointing toward and facing the front of the crowd
Father John Misty played two nights at the Palace in St. Paul, joined by opener Suki Waterhouse.
Sara Fish for MPR

Tillman then went right into “Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings” and “Mr. Tillman” without pause. (The latter prompted some mid-song applause at the line, "Jason Isbell's here as well, And he seemed a little worried about you.” It’s been a big week for Jason Isbell and Father John Misty fans.)

Four songs into the night, Tillman decided to see just how untourable Chloë and the Next 20th Century is by playing the opening track “Chloë.” There was a noticeable shift in tone as the first sour, muted trumpet notes of the lavish, jazzy show tune rang out over the room. The song transported the crowd back to a time when big bands reigned supreme, and we as a society hadn’t ruined jazz yet. The crowd absolutely loved it, dancing along to every woodwind flourish.

It wasn’t until six songs in that Tillman addressed the crowd for the first time in his seductive timbre: “We’re four or five songs in; I think we can finally let our hair down a bit. Are you guys enjoying the repertoire so far?”

He then asked if anyone had recently had to say goodbye to a pet and someone in front said they’d recently lost their corgi, Stewart. “A corgi? Huh, interesting. You strike me as more of a large reptile person. Well, this next song is about my fictional cat passing away, so I’d like to dedicate it to Stewart.”

The plucky, fingerpicking intro of “Goodbye Mr. Blue” (the second showing from Chloë of the evening) filled the space, and Tillman channeled his inner Harry Nilsson for a few minutes. While “Goodbye Mr. Blue” may be about a fictional pet, Tillman nailed the heartwrenching sensation of saying goodbye to a furry friend, so it’s safe to assume that Stewart was adequately honored by it.

In all, Tillman opted to play five of the eleven tracks off of Chloë and the Next 20th Century on Friday night, four in the main set and “Buddy’s Rendezvous” in the encore. The rest of the hour-and-a-half-long spectacle was a fairly even mix of tracks from his other four albums. But each song of the set — regardless of the tone captured in the album version — had a huge orchestral feel.

Person holds guitar and sings into a microphone
Father John Misty played two nights at the Palace in St. Paul, joined by opener Suki Waterhouse.
Sara Fish for MPR

For the final three songs of the main set alone, Tillman and his orchestra really pulled out all the stops. We’re talking a triple saxophone solo on “Pure Comedy,” a very crowd-pleasing trumpet solo on “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” and just an absolute punishing rendition of “The Ideal Husband.”

The encore briefly brought the mood down a bit after someone in the crowd requested the earnest and heartfelt I Love You, Honeybear closer “I Went To the Store One Day,” and Tillman obliged. The song chronicles Tillman’s relationship with his wife from their first meeting until their eventual deaths. His solo, acoustic rendition of it was hauntingly beautiful, albeit in stark contrast to the rest of the high-energy set.

From the second his loafers hit the stage, Father John Misty had the adoring crowd eating from the ever-gesticulating palm of his hand. He rarely stopped moving throughout the length of his set and never wasted an opportunity to dance — from subtle, flirty hand movements to full-blown dance breaks with the mic stand as his dance partner. His showmanship and ill-fitting suit ooze a sort of sleazy charisma that only he and he alone can manage to pull off. And pull it off, he does. With the Chloë and the Next 20th Century tour, he’s proven that despite his best efforts, he can make anything tourable.

Setlist

I Love You, Honeybear

Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings

Mr. Tillman

Chloë

Nancy From Now On

Just Dumb Enough to Try

Goodbye Mr. Blue

Funny Girl

Only Son of the Ladiesman

Q4

Hangout at the Gallows

Total Entertainment Forever

Please Don't Die

When You're Smiling And Astride Me

Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

Pure Comedy

The Ideal Husband

Encore

I Went To The Store One Day

Buddy's Rendezvous

I’m Writing a Novel