It was the first of what will be many hot nights in Houston, which made the Father John Misty show at Fitzgerald’s a sultry affair.
Shows rarely sell out in Houston on nights like this; as the city inches towards its notorious summer, its denizen retreat into more thoroughly air conditioned climes. In April, not even Sleater Kinney, the iconic riot grrls who haven’t toured in nine years, can pack a house. But something special about the former Fleet Foxes drummer called Houstonians to sweat it out and suffer.
The crowd itched and swayed through benign opener Luluc, an Australia-based folk duo that has recently attracted stateside attention with its sophomore album Passerby. While the band rose a few eyebrows for its onstage antics (such as guitarist Steve Hassett playing his Fender with a bow), lugubrious and sparse songs like “Small Window” and “Tangled Heart” proved too melancholy for the restless audience. As the atmosphere stuffed up with our collective sweat, few were in the mood for brooding tunes of the broken hearted.
Father John Misty began with a rapturous rendition of “I Love You, Honeybear,” the title track of his 2015 release. Bathed in red light from a stage-sized neon heart that read “No Photography,” FJM preached to his audience with a twist of his hips, like a perverse preacher leading an orgiastic tent revival. Slow, yearning songs like “Strange Encounter” slid up the audience’s legs, and synth-heavy numbers like “True Affection” made us all believers.
It’s hard to say why FJM is hitting such a nerve with audiences; something about the tongue-in-cheek bitterness and despair seems to ripple through the hearts of many listeners. Whether it came from the hate-fucking ballad of “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” or the heartwarming sacrilege of “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” an electricity reverberated through the floorboards, jolting through the arms and voice boxes of the crowd so that people sang and gyrated in concert with the charismatic lead man on stage.
Maybe that’s why fans laughed along with the backing track on “Bored in the USA.” Father John Misty makes us feel like he’s in on the sick joke of our lives, the quiet desperation that we never thought we’d succumb to but nevertheless find now that we are on the wrong side of thirty. With each shimmy and shake, with each wry raise of the eyebrow, with the deafening feedback and the roaring guitars, Misty releases us, if only for a few hours of his show, from the modern constraints that are only on the best days bearable.
So when Misty stripped off his shirt, announcing that he was going to “go ahead and do this before we all fucking die,” maybe he wasn’t just taking about surviving the sweltering heat. As he sang in his final song “Every Man Needs a Companion”:
Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones
Couldn’t give me a myth
So I had to write my own
Father John Misty speaks to the shrugging way we all try to give our lives meaning when faced with the void. He becomes our companion, the one to console us, as we shuffle along through the suffering weirdness, the buzz kills and betrayals, and all the other tough parts of our generally rather easy lives.