Father John Misty and the LA Philharmonic do sad magic together in LA

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Anyone feeling a sense of dread at the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe had certainly come to the right place if they had landed at Father John Misty’s unique concert with the LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Not that Misty was about to bring up the news in her rather reserved stage outline on Friday night. But as someone with a horribly dark catalog of lyrics that have veered downright apocalyptic at times, Misty seems like the kind of stoic on the shoulder you might be crying, or at least brooding over, in the midst of an upheaval of the world order. global crisis.

It was therefore possible to occasionally feel sadness during Misty’s show in downtown Los Angeles on several levels, one of which had to do with the fearlessness of her lyrics in considering humanity on ” this unholy rock that refuses to die” as a mass extinction. Event.

And then, all existential melancholy aside, there was the sadness that came from thinking that this show probably wasn’t recorded for a live album, and that these 80 minutes might be the only time you’ll ever get the chance to hear these songs in greater depth. , luscious arrangements that often seemed like the natural highlight of where they were always headed. Misty has used generous amounts of orchestration in her recorded catalog before and even took her own mini-orchestra on tour in 2018, but those half or three-quarter steps never sounded as good as what happened. Friday night. Of all the pop-rock/symphonic collaborations the LA Phil and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra have specialized in over the past few years – and there have been some wonderful ones – this seemed like the most natural and probably the best.

Father John Misty with the LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
Dustin Downing on behalf of the LA Phil

Misty has a fifth album coming out in April, “Chloë and the Next 20th Century,” which makes even more liberal use of orchestral arrangements, so it would have been realistic to assume he would use that Disney Hall show with the Phil to premiere a part. of this material. But for some reason that wasn’t the case, and the only two songs Misty performed from the upcoming release, “Funny Girl” and “Q4,” were the only two debutants to crash the setlist of 20. friday songs. Maybe he didn’t want to let the cats out of the bag prematurely, even with cell phones banned in the auditorium. But there’s also the likelihood that this show has been on the books longer than the release of “Chloë”; this appears to be unofficial compensation for two shows Misty was scheduled to do with the Phil at the Ford Theater last summer, before the pandemic endurance kicked in. But Father’s herd weren’t ready to balk at a catalog exhibit that felt brand new in its own way, with several dozen additional players thrown in a mix we’re unlikely to hear from again, under the direction of Thomas Wilkins.

Given that the singer-songwriter has long provided glimpses, at least, of what all of the grander versions of his material might sound like, the additional material seemed more rewarding than completely revealing. Although Misty’s new look counted as the only minor shocker of the night, perhaps: With a fresh cut to go with his bushy beard, he looked like a member of a religious order, ironically, given the “irreligiousness of songs like the theme of evolution” Pure comedy. Other personal marks remained as he led a six-piece band as well as the orchestra: the dark costume; soles of the feet, between the cross-legged poses; the melodious voice that makes the substance of panic strangely soothing.

Misty didn’t give much indication of what the prevailing public mood should be, beyond genuine admiration for the beauty of Disney Hall and a few quips so quiet they made the little girl laugh. part of the audience that surprised them. He had a chuckle with a nod to the number of shows canceled due to occurrences of musicians or COVID crews these days, noting that he felt like they weren’t ” only one positive test away” from having the show re-billed as “The LA Phil Plays Father John Misty’s Music.” And to the crowd – some of whom had paid high resale prices and traveled across the country to witness this singular spectacle – he said: ‘I know many of you haven’t been in certain times’ , acknowledging that the colorful, all-encompassing lighting design of the lobby might trick some of them into thinking they were on mushrooms. He advised: “Just keep saying, ‘I love awareness. “”

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Father John Misty at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
Dustin Downing on behalf of the LA Phil

For someone who identifies with indie rock, Misty can veer awfully close to easy listening, in the most impressive way. Sometimes his music comes across so well, despite the unnerving undertones, that you could kind of think of him as David Gates standing outside the gates of hell. Ineffable beauty figures as prominently in his writing as disgust with humanity or mortal terror. He’s at his characteristic best — and the Phil was at his best to accentuate his particular balancing act — on a song like “The Palace,” where only a few chords go in a darker or more discordant direction than they do. would do in the hands of just about any other songwriter with such ease for a traditionally pretty melody. His goal isn’t always to throw you off like that, but no one has a better idea (to misquote “Hey Jude”) than taking a sad song and making it scarier.

Many of Phil’s fresh arrangements brought out musical nuances that a fan might not have paid much attention to before – such as in “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution”, the song most truly , literally the end of the world. of the night. The orchestra didn’t even enter until the second verse, but once it did, Phil’s own horn section joined Misty’s two-horn contingent to give this lament of the end of time a downright Burt Bacharach-esque beat. As for the strings, their languorous moments made much of the night sound like a series of the finest end-title themes that Hollywood ever thought it needed, but there was also a focus on the passages in pizzicato, making some of the interludes literally brave.

The mix was perfect for letting Misty’s band sound like a rock band; electric guitar’s fleeting breaks have certainly been louder before, but there was no mute button on a drum kit that gave all proceedings a real boost. As always, Misty’s own band had their 70s Mellow Gold moments – a heartwarming bit of rare slide guitar on “Ballad of the Dying Man”, followed by an even rarer bit of pedal steel on the number. next, “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” – but for the most part Misty’s music remained, as always, not particularly rooted in style, era or pastiche, but rather in a sort of heartbroken romance.

While the two songs from 2022 weren’t enough to give audiences a clear idea of ​​what the full album “Chloë and the Next 20th Century” will sound like, they certainly indicate a surprising feeling of departure. The lyrics of both songs move further than ever from the atheist sermon of “Pure Comedy” and closer than ever to the character-driven weirdness; all we know about the subjects of these two issues is that one is an actress the narrator seems to have both a crush on and some passive-aggressive disdain for, and the other has a book that will come out which will take a Christmas break from the editor. (Are either of these songs a period piece, since “Funny Girl” refers to “Letterman” and “Q4” refers to a book division that actually makes a profit? ) Musically too, these new songs don’t depend much on what you might consider. a foggy trope. “Funny Girl” uses its saxes to suggest a lazier side to ’40s big band music – certainly not an arrow it seemed to have hidden in its quiver before. But it doesn’t seem like the rest of the album is meant to be any kind of Glenn Miller homage. “Q4” uses a faux harpsichord (not to be confused with Phil’s literal harp) reminiscent of some late ’60s baroque pop.

Back on familiar ground, the set proper climaxed with the triple punch of “Pure Comedy” (and its punchline, “I hate to say it, but the other is all we’ve got” – is a promise or a threat?), “God’s Favorite Customer” (with an electric piano that almost turns an agnostic metaphor into a real gospel song) and the “Holy Shit” that says it all. Then the LA Phil quietly retired into that good night as Misty and her band returned for a three-song encore without an orchestra. The last number of this after-party: the short and hard-hitting “Date Night”, one of the few true rockers in Misty’s catalog. “Here’s a really stupid one,” he said by way of introduction. After the previous 80 minutes of exceedingly magnificent and glorious reflection, he and the audience deserved these last two minutes of mindless fun.

So, about this live album…

Father John Misty’s Disney Hall Setlist:

I love you, bear
Hangout at the gallows
Mr. Tillman
Disappointing diamonds are the rarest of all
Nancy from now on
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for two virgins)
When you smile and ride me
Q4
Hollywood sings forever
What it would have been useful to know before the revolution
Ballad of the Dying Man
Nothing good ever happens to the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
The palace
funny girl
Pure comedy
God’s Favorite Customer
Holy shit

Again (without LA Phil):
Funtimes in Babylon
Total Entertainment Forever
A romantic date

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