In what felt like a deleted scene from Almost Famous, Father John Misty’s Monday, Sept. 25, show at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium began with a classic case of an opening act getting short changed in the sound department.
For reasons unknown, Weyes Blood had the misfortune of too much bass and a poor blending of frontwoman Natalie Mering’s acoustic guitar strumming on “Be Free,” a frequently screechy presentation of her synth and a near-constant dampening of her arena-ready vocals.
Soldiering on, the Los Angeles quartet overcame the technical obstacles to deliver moving, layered, orchestral rock goodness on Mering’s originals, picking the best tracks from 2016’s stellar Front Row Seat to Earth. The band also worked in a marvelous cover of George Harrison’s “Run of the Mill,” raising the tantalizing thought of an album-length Weyes Blood version of All Things Must Pass.
Fondly reminiscing of past Asheville visits, from house shows to headlining The Mothlight, Mering jokingly encouraged the audience to stick around for “Daddy Misty.” After a refreshingly short break, courtesy of an efficient stage crew whose work for the evening was far from over, Joshua Tillman (aka Father John Misty) took to the center mic, one half of his six-piece band on either side, like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Starting with the first four tracks from Album of the Year candidate Pure Comedy in sequential order, Tillman’s lanky frame stayed active, breaking into impromptu dance steps or dropping to his knees when so moved.
Thanks to rich instrumentation far more impressive than its studio iterations, uptempo numbers inspired occasional elevation and/or inversion of the microphone stand and swinging the mic around by its cord like a lasso, all of which sent the stagehands rushing to untangle wires and remove other trip hazards from Tillman’s path.
Less dangerous were the singer-songwriter’s handful of slow, confessional walks to the sides of the stage to offer his more self-aware and socially conscious/critical thoughts, among them evening highlight “Bored in the U.S.A” and the eerily timely lyrics from 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear standout “Holy Shit”: “What’s that got to do with this atom bomb and me?”
Nearly as impressive as the performances and integral to the night’s overall enjoyment was exceptional set design and use of projection, specially crafted for each song. Along with animated extensions of the B&W Bosch-like illustrations that adorn Pure Comedy’s cover moving across the back screen, a large circle hung high on stage left was filled with a moon or colorful sun, depending on what the lyrical content inspired.
As Tillman and his talented band rode the set’s carefully crafted waves between danceable and laid back tracks, audience engagement remained high as artists and listeners alike were energized and recharged with the ebb and flow. Over far too soon despite clocking in at over 20 songs, the warm, welcoming curation of work from the three Father John Misty albums could have continued for another hour without complaint — but, as the saying goes, it’s better to leave the party while you’re still having fun.