If you have ever concluded that your precious life was being played out in an absurdist dystopia, you are not alone. American folk-rock musician Father John Misty’s third album, Pure Comedy, released last April, is all about us “demented monkeys” who live in a system only “a madman would conceive”.
There are scraps of comfort, though, declared and implied. There is sweet, sweet music. Live and on record, Misty’s voice is clear and true, his tunes nagging and lush. “Each other’s all we’ve got,” runs the last line of the title track, delivered tonight, the second of two nights at this storied London venue, with a kind of offhand emphasis, to profuse cheers.
The tour of this complicated album is full of razzmatazz and balm: strings, brass and pedal steel accompany Misty’s large band. Pianist Jon Titterington plays it tinkly or honky-tonk by turns on songs such as Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow, while pedal-steel player David Vandervelde bumps up the country quotient. The album’s misanthropic, Hieronymous Bosch-like cover art is writ large on the backdrop; you can also buy leggings of it from the merch stand. Glitter cannons are deployed early in the set. One goes off after a massive crescendo on Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution, prompting Misty to ponder an unfinished joke about blowing one’s load too early.
Misty – Josh Tillman to the immigration authorities – has always dripped self-awareness. Previous tours have contained between-song analyses of how performances work. On these bigger stages, however, Misty talks less and hams it up even more, recalling Jarvis Cocker’s deconstructions of how a transported, hip-swivelling lead singer should behave. (“I wanted to be authentically bogus rather than bogusly authentic,” Tillman told the New Yorker earlier this year.) The original vision for this tour involved “therapist puppets” and “giant banana-peel costumes” and the…