LOS ANGELES, CA-  If you missed the second week of KCRW’s 2018 World Festival at the iconic Hollywood Bowl on June 24th, 2018, then you missed a trifecta of thought provoking music. The evening began with Big Thief, a rising four member Brooklyn-based indie band…known for wistful, ethereal and acoustic sounds. They set the tone for a more reflective and somber evening— singing songs of sadness and self-acceptance.

When renowned folk singer, Gillian Welch, appeared in boots and a light blue sun dress, she continued the mystical, deeper and darker ambience with plucky chords and pensive songs like “Hard Times,” “Elvis Presley Blues,” “Down Along The Dixie Line,” “Revelator” and “Look At Miss Ohio.” She also added a heavy twang of country. You might know of her “rural style” of music from when she sang a rendition of the gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away,” and of her collaboration with music producer juggernaut, T Bone Burnett, in writing, “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” for the “O Brother Where Art Thou” 1992 hit film. She sang this with her longtime partner/guitarist David Rawlings, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss…earning herself a Grammy Award for Album of the Year that year.

On Sunday night, David Rawlings accompanied Gillian again. Together they stood on stage, alone, harmonizing honky tonk Appalachian music, while playing guitars and banjo. Throughout “Six White Horses,” Gillian set aside her instruments and took up a form of “slap and stomp” country line dancing…rousing the crowd into yeehaws and screams. In fact, the audience had become engrossed, as the music swelled into twangier emphatic guitar strumming. She left us singing “I’ll Fly Away,” and swaying our cowboy hats in the unusual chilly June evening. The more I turned around to look at the audience, the more cowboy hats I saw. I was beginning to wonder if I had showed up at a rodeo in Texas versus an indie folk night at The Bowl.

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Since the evening had been filled with soul-searching songs and I hadn’t seen Father John Misty perform live before, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from him. He’s certainly in the same folksy ilk of the other artists, but he also has a reputation for strong political views and a self-reproach about his rising stardom.

In the past three years, Father John Misty (also known as Joshua Tillman) has circulated the late night talk shows with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers…discussing his own fascination and distaste for the entertainment industry.  Under this persona, he won a Grammy in 2017 for his album, “Pure Comedy.” I was first introduced to Father John Misty’s songs in 2015 through KCRW and Alt Nation on Sirius Radio. While he’s had widespread acclaim since 2015 for his “I Love You, Honeybear” album, he’s been a recording artist and writing collaborator since 2004. In 2008, as a drummer— he joined the Seattle folk rock band, Fleet Foxes, up until 2012 when he decided to venture out as the singer Father John Misty.

Many of his songs have a religious influence. He’s openly shared that his religious upbringing was oppressive, and he was drawn to folk music because he was limited to Bob Dylan records. Following a similar path, Father John Misty, builds his songs with depth and twisted, ironic storytelling. He has richness in his voice, especially during acoustic songs, which showcase his sophisticated approach to lyrics. For instance, his song “I Love You, Honeybear,” is about loving someone who shares your distortion or darkness of the world. In that distortion, the couple finds light and the darkness become irrelevant together. But for me, I’ve always favored his ballads, like “Mr. Tillman,” “Bored in the USA,” “Pure Comedy” and “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” which highlights his vocal range, power and gives you a peek into his cynical point of view.

As a headliner of this giant and historic venue, his performance was a bit surprising. While he didn’t engage with the audience very much, announce songs or even introduce his band, he did leave a strong impression of a passionate singer and songwriter. While he was quite theatrical, often dancing across the stage while holding the mic as a spear in the sky, he seemed removed, like he was examining his own lyrics … or as if they had new meaning this time around.  Rather than invite his fans into his performance, his performance felt slightly removed, perhaps too engrossed in his own feelings.

His iconic long beard had been trimmed down, along with his shaggy long hair. Wearing an all white suit, he reminded me of a cleaner cut version of the Bee Gees. This was an atypical look for Father John Misty. In nearby seats, my friends also felt his performance was unusual. They’ve seen him at smaller venues, like the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles; where he provided stories, introductions and interacted with fans. In a more intimate setting, Father John Misty may likely feel more at home, perhaps…but this is only speculation on my end.

While I could appreciate his politically driven, angst-against-the-world and chaotic disruptive songs (like “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before The Revolution,” “Total Entertainment Forever”, “Ballad of The Dying Man”)—I found myself still more aligned to his more optimist and upbeat songs like “Chateau Lobby #4” and “Real Love Baby”; in which the latter he played as an encore.

Father John Misty closed the introspective night with his hit song “Real Love Baby” leaving fans hugging each other and enraptured. We shut our eyes and let his sweeping music transport us to the 1970’s, when things seemed less complicated. We melted into notes and rhythms similar to The Beach Boys and enjoyed the wind, each other and floated along to Father John’s hopeful and happy lyrics. For that three-minute song, we forgot the politics, decisiveness and just focused on that…real love.

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Father John John Misty, Gillian Welch & Big Theif @ Hollywood Bowl 6/24/18. Concert Marquee.
Father John John Misty, Gillian Welch & Big Theif @ Hollywood Bowl 6/24/18. Concert Marquee.