Saturday night I coped with the impending closing of the Mohawk Place by taking a trip east on the 90 to take in the Father John Misty show at the Water Street Music Hall in Rochester. That's just the way I handled that situation, and I have no regrets because Josh Tillman and FJM delivered an impassioned set that blew away the WNY crowd and confirmed their status as an act to watch. In fact, I'd almost have to call it a religious experience, a perfect bit of synchronicity considering the funeral taking place that night on Mohawk Street. I don't know what happened to Mr. Tillman on his magic mushroom fueled migration from Seattle to Los Angeles, but he unlocked something potent and primal, and it was on full display Saturday night.
San Francisco's Magic Trick started the evening's entertainments with a subdued set of countrified psychedelia that went over fairly well with the assembled crowd. Of particular note was leader Tim Cohen's interest in Buffalo, asking if anybody from our city was in attendance before launching into a bizarre little story about getting mediocre chicken wings at Avenue Pizza on their way to Rochester, a story that elicited absolutely no sympathy from the Buffalonians present. Seriously, how are these bands visiting WNY ending up eating at the shittiest joints? It's getting out of hand and I'm tired of hearing about it at shows. I mean, don't they have Foursquare, or use Yelp? Anyway.
Father John Misty. The name calls to mind a sketchy, unfrocked priest looking for a good time in low places, an impression that comes to life onstage when Joshua Tillman gets down, leading us astray, and wooing the ladies. Starting off with the lead track on their 2012 debut Fear Fun, "Fun Times In Babylon," the pattern for the night was set: dry, witty banter followed by a spirited jam featuring the peculiar gyrations of the frontman, followed by more dry witty banter and women throwing articles of clothing onstage so the frontman can dab sweat from his brow to protect the stitches he earned the night previous in Cleveland jumping into the drum kit. Is Tillman the first honest to goodness indie rock sex god? I don't know if he's the first, but he's definitely an indie rock sex god because it got a little Elvis up there more than a few times during the set, something you just don't see at Indie shows too often. Thankfully Tillman is also thoroughly hilarious, so his banter with the crowd and the ladies about father figures, religion, and the fashion sense of the audience was very entertaining.
But everybody was really there for the music, and while it was all fun and games, on the music front Father John Misty didn't disappoint. Tillman and the band worked their way through Fear Fun, transforming the stately and mannered folk rock of that album into rowdy, lived in American rock jams. Every song felt caffeinated and explosive, and the sound at the Water Street was perfect for communicating the delicate and beautiful depth of the music, with Tillman's evocative vocals front and center. The main set closed with a reckless and wicked demolishing of "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" that showed why Tillman ended up with stitches the night before in Cleveland while whipping the crowd into an evangelically delirious frenzy that carried over to the acoustic encore we got from Mr. Tillman when we hushed up to savor the news songs he performed for us, the perfect end to a perfect set.
If I sound a little over the moon for Father John Misty, it's because I am. After seeing them open for Youth Lagoon I was deeply impressed, but now after seeing them with all eyes on them as headliners, I definitely feel some of that religious zeal that Father John Misty inspires. Women want to be with him, men want to be him, and for my part I think he'd be a great Thursday at the Harbor choice. His timeless and pleasingly dangerous American rock would be a slam dunk in with Buffalo audiences and catnip for the hipsters, especially for the hipsters rightly mourning the Mohawk. Saturday night, Father John Misty provided, and I sincerely hope he gets to do so in Western New York again this year.