June 14, 2013


Father John Misty Goes Country at Bonnaroo 2013

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse
Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

"How ya doin, Ba-NA-roo?," asked Father John Misty, purposely mispronouncing the festival. "Are you ready to be asked how you're doing every hour for the next five days?"

The former Fleet Foxes drummer spoke to the Bonnaroo crowd Thursday night with typical candor, humor and brashness, but it was his musical stylistic shift—transforming most of the folk-rock songs on last year's Fear Fun into honky tonk country tracks—that was the night's biggest shocker. It's as if Misty liked the country rock swing of Fear Fun track "I'm Writing a Novel" so much, he turned it into an entire set. Guitar-based indie rock still found a home--the waltz-time dirge "This Is Sally Hatchet" became one of the set's heaviest songs--but the man born Josh Tillman seemed more comfortable in his country persona. 

Misty stands as a counterpoint to indie rock's monotonous, docile frontman trope. He is equal parts Jim Morrison, James Brown and Liberace; his malleable body contorting, shimmying, sashaying, strutting and swiveling across the stage. His arms are a performer all their own, acting out each song like some Williamsburg mime at an interpretative dance competition. (Sadly, no karaoke version of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" tonight.) He says that his new track, a mournful song entitled "I Love You, Honey Bear" in which he sings, "Everything is doomed and nothing will be spared/I love you, Honey Bear," was "written by me and ecstasy" before imitating a person on the drug.

There's a level of theatrical camp to the performance, as on "Nancy From Now On," when Misty acts more like a lounge singer on a cruise ship than indie rock royalty. You half-expect him to say, "Don't forget to tip your waiter. Second show completely different from the first," in between songs. As we saw on his Austin City Limits set, Misty is as much performance artist extraordinaire as singer, deftly able to shift between roles and personas without succumbing to gimmickry. He's not a walking quote machine at this show like at Coachella, but banter like, "Are you having a wonderful weekend of folk rock?" still resonate with the packed tent.

For all his country leanings, the song that makes the most impact is closer "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings." It is arguably the best song on Fear Fun and certainly the most memorable; a slow, heavy rock stomper about sex and death that still manages to be a sonic earworm, rooting itself in your brain after the first listen. There's more electric guitar live than on the album, giving the show a proper rock sendoff after conjuring up Willie, Waylon and Merle for most of the night. At the end of the track, Misty gets up off his knees, flings his hair purposefully and slams the mic on the stage. He walks off, laying down a challenge for bored-looking indie frontmen everywhere.