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Saturday, 15 June 2013 14:46

Concert review: Crowd meets the palm of Father John Misty's hand (with Pure Bathing Culture) at a sold-out Firebird, Friday, June 14

Father John Misty at the Firebird Father John Misty at the Firebird Caroline Philippone
Written by Blair Stiles
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The backdrop pinned onstage consisted of a nude Josh Tillman standing in a golden arch encapsulated by a rainbow, in space. And that is Father John Misty: Irreverent, free-spirited and probably, while not on stage, hanging out in his birthday suit.

Misty has gained accolades since he released 2012's "Fear Fun." His live act is mostly touted for his good-girl-gone-bad dance moves and aphrodisiacal tenor. Last night at the Firebird was no different. Misty came out swinging -- he literally swung from the rafters during "Well, You Can Do It Without Me" -- and kept a sold-out crowd wide-eyed and excited. I do not doubt we looked like a litter of Labradors to Misty and company.

The night's opener, Pure Bathing Culture, was a quartet of core members Sarah Versprille who womanned a cool vocal cutter/keyboard combo, Daniel Hindman who kept things incandescent with tones that would activate the audience's inner synesthetic, live drummer Brian Wright and a live bassist whose identity will be kept secret for the purpose of mystery.

Pure Bathing Culture played singles from their still-growing oeuvre ("Moon Tide" is due out in August) that dripped honey like the comb ganked from a vacant bee hive. Its sound was that of late '80s, early '90s young adult television programming --had those biographical jams been produced by Hugh Padgham of Phil Collin's "No Jacket Required." "Silver Shore's Lake" translated live with a sound similar to TLC's seminal "Crazy Sexy Cool." It was one of several cuts that came across live with a R&B rumble though recorded like fuzzy day dreams imagined with starry-eyes. In particular, the band had a rhythmic texture like Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," but sung by a hummingbird, not the King of Pop.

Speaking of birds, when his eyes glowed a cerulean blue underneath his Ray-Ban spectacles, Pure Bathing Culture's bassist looked suspiciously like another handsome bandit held captive in the green room….

The 20-minute wait for Misty felt like an eternity. Having seen him at his last St. Louis stop, I was aware that I was going to see a showman my generation fights aggressively to call their own. Misty is fun, he is generous with his humor and, to some of us, a rock 'n' roll deity -- Bacchus with a six string. Thank goodness we had his bassist's jeggings to keep us occupied. At about the thickness of a middle finger nail, the pants left nothing to hide. "His dick is a show in itself," said one show-goer. And so it goes….

Misty began his set with "Writing a Novel." It was an unexpected and welcome change from his last time around's opener, "Fun Times in Babylon." Misty was an up-tempo man last night, with a biting wit that writhed itself around deadpan with the same proficiency his hips twisted around a beat. He followed "Novel" with "Tee Pees 1-12." Its honky-tonk twang created a sharp din that reverberated through the set.

Naturally, Misty was theatrical. During "Fun Times in Babylon" when the line "with every girl I've ever loved" approached, he kneeled before a female audience member, took her hand, and laid the back of it against his forehead. Afterwards he explained how he hit a show-goer's car: "COULD THIS DAY GET ANY WORSE?!" By far, the greatest show he put on was for the iPhone he snatched from someone in front row during "Nancy From Now On." He turned it on himself to record his face, and solely his face, as he serenaded the device for a full minute.

A side note on "Nancy" -- whomever had controls of the keys revved up the triangle part so that it took presence over the other instruments, fully utilizing its sound into a hypnotic and full-bodied effect. It was divine.

Misty left the stage three-fourths of the way through "Sally Hatchet," which gave his backing band ample time to shower show-goers with "Sally Hatchet's" menacing, wailing drone. When Tillman returned he had a beer and a shot in his hands. He finished the last refrain perfectly -- syncing up with the band in the nick of time.

About that young sir from Pure Bathing Culture who resembled Misty: he turned out to be Misty's younger brother, Zach Tillman. That appearance gave Misty the chance to tell us how he brought his little brother to first grade show and tell because his brother's ability to read "Billy Goat's Gruff" mystified him. Misty brought him onstage for "Every Man Needs a Companion"; the younger Tillman sang the fuck out of it. Though he seemed to be freestyling a verse, his tone was similar to Misty's -- less weather-worn, but just as plum, juicy enough that my plus-one and I shot side-glances at each other while clenching a fist to our respective hearts in appreciation.

Misty's encore included an unknown track which he sang with an acoustic guitar all by his lonesome, a cover of the Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun" -- which could not have been a more appropriate choice for Misty -- and the first single off the upcoming LP, "I Love You, Honeybear." His encore was as tame as he'd been all evening. While the spectacle of Misty can be hilarious, and his songs are addicting even when played over computer speakers, the depth of his subject matter and musicianship shine in moments when it is permissible to take your eyes off him. "You've got your father's scorn/And a wayward and schizophrenia/But everything is fine/Don't give in to despair/'Cause I love you, Honeybear."

None of us may grow up to understand Misty's mind, but "I Love You, Honeybear" felt like something relatable -- a rare, realistic look at the nature of love.

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