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Review Sat Jan 19 2013
Have you ever stood next to someone at a show who jabbered on and on about how big a fan they were of the next band and then continued talking into that band's set as if they were, say, your deadbeat uncle's Steve Miller cover band? That's sort of how it felt on the first platform at the Vic on Friday for Father John Misty and the Walkmen. Luckily, though, the Walkmen are better than some of the chatterboxes who adore them. They bring an air of professionalism to a forum that sometimes lacks it. They dress to impress, always play at a high level and respect audiences with humility. (To the last point, at the end of the show, singer Hamilton Leithauser jumped from the stage and made his way through the crowd. As someone next to me helped him over a railing, he asked no one in particular, "Everything sound ok? Good show tonight?")
A decade into the Walkmen's career has found them older, wiser and still churning out quality. But now it's a different sort of quality. Hearing songs from their aggressive debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone aside those from the relatively calm Lisbon and Heaven can be somewhat jarring. The music is still intricate, complex and moving; the subject matter has toned down. Just judging from the adorable photo of the guys with their kids, it's clear that they don't need to write songs like "The Rat" anymore. It actually makes you wonder what goes through their heads when they play it every night. Oddly enough, on Friday, they pulled more from 2010's Lisbon than their most recent album. And they sprinkled in a lot of old favorites, too. In the past I've thought the Walkmen's weakness as a live band was unbalanced tempo shifts in how set lists played out. The arcs sounded all wrong in my head. (And I know I'm not the only one.) But at the Vic I heard the order for what it is - showing the growth of the band from who they were to who they've become. Sure, Leithauser still belts out with his dynamic voice and the band's impeccable, but you don't get from a one-two punch like "We've Been Had" and "The Rat" to closing with "We Can't Be Beat" and "Heaven" without revealing the path. And they did it magnificently.
Josh Tillman's Father John Misty has a strange and delightful stage persona. Tillman's casual and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously - hands in pockets, chin strokes, silly rock star poses, etc. Sometimes he looks like singing is about the 4th-most important thing on his mind. But he does it with such panache that he gets away with appearing as if performing is a chore. If nothing else, it's a great facade. On Friday he was joined by a full band that allowed him to concentrate on singing and a little guitaring. (When I'd seen him before, it was just him solo with an acoustic guitar.) Through a set that had more than a few moments reminiscent of Gram Parsons or his stint with Fleet Foxes, FJM rolled through most of the Fear Fun album. Anecdotes between songs were amusing and self-deprecating. The songs themselves were layered and well-executed. Closing with the single that's shone brightest for him, "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings", Tillman and the band veered from their folky/Americana/pop to build glitchy beeps and feedback into a climax leading back into the last verse just as it seemed to be going on too long.