‘They’ say that, historically, poetry and invention come in times of peace and prosperity, because when members of a society are focused on survival there is little time for poetry and invention. We live in a moment where many artists (not all, of course) are focusing on art that promotes self-care, inner-reflection, healing, and empowerment so many of us can make it, mentally, through another day. Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy is not one of those records. It’s concerned very little with the culture of mental-wellness and self-worth, as it describes the lunacy of, not just the times we’re living in, but the muck we’ve been in for centuries as a species embracing our human nature to its fullest. It’s heavy stuff, and if you want to really know what Pure Comedy is all about you can read “Here’s Father John Misty’s Incredibly Long, Incredibly Awesome Explanation of What His New Album Is About.” It’s a brilliant meditation on our human condition and a playful deconstruction of many of our modern ideologies, but who shows up to listen to “Another white guy in 2017/ Who takes himself so goddamn seriously?” Well, myself, and quite a few people who live conveniently enough to order a pizza to arrive at their apartment at the approximate time they’ll be home from the show.
If you want to see anything but the best of people, go to an oversold show. It’s difficult to describe the spot I was standing in for most of the performance, but let’s just say that I was directly between an exit and the photo pit entrance, against a wall, and behind a mob of people trying to squeeze their way into the show because they paid for a ticket. Father John Misty opened with the title track and opening song on the album, “Pure Comedy” and while Tillman prudently sang, “Comedy, now that’s what I call pure comedy” and the clearly uniformed security guard directed people to make an exit path from the photo pit, there were shouts of “Do you work here?” and “What the f— do you think this is, bro?” In the moment, it was a horrific spectacle, in hindsight, it could be the most low budget and illustrative music video for the underlying point of any song on the record.
Father John Misty brought his greatly anticipated antics, demonstrative expressions, a thought out setlist, the stamina to play a two hour set, and under the deep purple stage lights “True Affection” flourished into the devil-may-care discotheque of any Father John Misty devotee’s dreams. He didn’t say much outside of song. Tillman allowed all of his carefully penned poetry to speak its universal themes, and it was the pep rally jeers after Misty bellowed “Oh, they gave me a useless education/ And a subprime loan/ On a craftsman home/ Keep my prescriptions filled/ And now I can’t get off” that confirmed for me who paid forty-five dollars a ticket (before fees) to hear those themes. I was looking for community, but got a couple absent-mindedly bumping into me all through “Holy Shit.”
The scene where Zooey Deschanel’s character in Almost Famous, leaves home and gives her Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jimi Hendrix records to her little bro has always stuck with me. Pure Comedy would be in the stack of records (playlist) I’d hand my teen cousin today with the directions: Don’t scroll through Facebook, don’t text, don’t even flip through a magazine, because if you do, you’ll miss something. Just sit with yourself on the floor of your dorm, apartment, or parent’s home with engulfing headphones and listen. It’s the best way to listen to Father John Misty. No distractions. No outside influence.
Again, an oversold show, like an airport terminal, will not bring out the best in people.