I’ve never been much of a concert goer. They’re too much of a mixed bag. Sometimes they’re better than expected. Most times they’re worse. Something always happens to me at a concert, whether it’s someone blowing smoke in my face or a guy who’s 7 feet tall standing directly in front of me or someone’s arm repeatedly brushing mine even though I keep moving away or me realizing that maybe I don’t like this band all that much in the first place, so why am I here at all? (See: The Decemberists, MGMT.)
It’s not that I hate music either. I love music. Who doesn’t? But I hate people and crowds are the worst. The other people in the audience at a concert can be a source of misery. Other than the above-mentioned annoyances that have actually happened to me at concerts, sometimes people in the audience also want to talk to you because of, I don’t know, the energy or the alcohol and you get stuck in a back-and-forth with some random stranger.
Here’s a terrible anecdote from a show I went to for my friend’s band: these two guys in suits came up to our little group. They were in the music business somehow, I can’t remember if they told me what they actually did or not, but they wanted to know whether we liked the band. Well, yeah. Duh. So I asked one of them if he liked it because I guess I felt like I had to make conversation and he said some bullshit about how he would rather know whether or not I liked it. Of course. He was in a suit at a bar watching an underground show so obviously he was looking for a way to make money off it. Yes, that is a capitalist diss for anyone who gives a shit.
Speaking of capitalism, I also don’t go to concerts because I never have enough fucking money. Or time. I’m 3 years behind when it comes to music as it is, so I can barely keep track of the shows in Toronto.
But sometimes I break my own rule. Sometimes I’m willing to brave crowds and weird people to go to a concert. I like some artists that much. That’s what happened with Father John Misty.
A co-worker was playing him at work last year and I thought “oh yeah, that guy”. I always meant to listen to him. He was in Fleet Foxes, which is cool. He showed up in a Lana del Rey music video and called her a genius, so he has great taste. I started listening to his first two albums and I was really into it. Then his third album (Pure Comedy) came out and I was so into it. Even though they were written before it happened, the songs felt so relevant to the 2016 US election and the political and cultural climate. Since that’s all I can ever think about, it became a really meaningful album for me.
I don’t know much about music, but I do know that musicians usually tour following the release of an album. I told my boyfriend that we had to go to Papa Joe Musty’s show. I looked him dead in the eye and stressed the “have” just to make sure that he knew I was serious. There was no way I was going to miss seeing a musician live during the height of my intense interest. That’s like, the pinnacle point of a borderline obsession. Of course, me being me and perpetually late to things by the time I figured out he was playing a show in Toronto the tickets were sold out. I would not be deterred. We lucked out with Stub Hub. We actually managed to snag pretty decent seats too. The Internet is a miracle sometimes.
This happened in July, so blah, blah, blah the rest of my summer was pretty boring and then September came. It was time. I was so excited I spent an hour the day before trying on outfits because, at heart, I’m still a seventeen-year-old girl and live to dream that I’ll run into a musician I like after a show and be invited to a secret after party. I had to be prepared. I decided on a suede-ish mini skirt with fringe, a grey tank top, ankle boots, and a leather jacket.
The day of the concert, I listened to all three F.J.M albums to prepare myself. My boyfriend and I got Ghazale take-out for dinner and the weather was nice enough to eat and drink on our balcony. After dinner and a cider for me and beer for my boyfriend, I got dressed and we headed out.
On our way, I fretted over what the crowd would be like. We saw The Weeknd at the ACC the week before and two teens had to sit next to their friends so they took our seats and we had to move down to the next two. And even though everything was fine and it didn’t become an issue it’s just like, the principle of it you know? That I have to move down two seats even though I paid for the seats that they were sitting in, but you know. Plus, this middle-aged man sat for the whole show and my hand touched the top of his bald head twice and it was so embarrassing. Anyway, I didn’t want my first time seeing Daddy James Cloudy to be annoying.
We left late enough to miss the crowds but early enough to catch the opening act. The show was at Massey Hall. It’s my favourite venue in the city because:
- It’s fucking beautiful.
- I did a ghost walk once and they said the venue is actually haunted. I also love ghosts so.
- The sound is always great.
- There’s not a bad seat in the house.
- Again, it has seats. Like, assigned seats. I love sitting down.
We headed straight for the merch table once we got in. My boyfriend went to get us drinks while I held a spot in line and craned my neck to try and see what kind of cool shit was available. I had budgeted to buy, at the very least, a t-shirt so I could brag to everyone that I went to an Old Man Hazy show. “Where did I get it? Oh, I went to his show,” I would say with a smug smile, emphasizing the word “show” to “shoooow”.
I was pretty buzzed at this point from the cider and my overall excitement over seeing one of my favourite singers. I wondered if people in line could tell I was very much on another planet. I looked around the crowd to see if anyone was judging me and noticed that I was dressed like every other friggin’ girl there. Leather jackets, glasses, mini-skirts, dresses, and cute boots were annoyingly common through the sea of people. Nothing’s original anymore though, right?
My boyfriend joined me in line and we discussed what merchandise we were going to waste money on. There was a red sweatshirt with a gold Father John Misty screen-print that looked like communist propaganda that I absolutely had to have. But then I noticed a sick baseball cap that had “bad magic” written on it. It was Weyes Blood merchandise and it totally spoke to me (I’ve been dabbling in moon rituals). I made a note to come back to get it after Patriarch Jon Mucky performed because, by this point, we had spent so much time in line I was worried we were going to miss something. FOMO is my permanent state of being.
We went back to the entrance to get to our seats and I totally recognized the usher – she’s a regular customer at my day job. The entire way to our seats, I was shook. When you work in retail, you start to see regular faces here and there, but you rarely think about customers outside the store (at least I don’t). When it does happen though, worlds collide. I wondered if I should say something to her, but what could I say except “hey, remember me? I work at that store you go to sometimes”. Weyes Blood was already on stage anyway, so there’s no way she would have heard me – I could barely hear her as she directed us to our seats. Still, I couldn’t help but note the random connection and how these stupid little coincidences, no matter how unexpected or irrelevant, make our world seem both smaller and bigger.
I settled into my seat and started to take in the opener. Weyes Blood pretty much blew my (inebriated) mind. Natalie Mering just exuded cool in her pale blue suit. She had electric candelabras behind her and the rest of the stage was washed in a blue and purple glow. The music wasn’t at all what I expected. I was prepared for something more rock-based, but the songs she played reminded me more of the music from the late 60’s and early 70’s – those folk rock songs with an echo-y, Renaissance Fair vibe. Sipping my cider, I felt like I was watching someone at Woodstock. I know that sounds super cliché, but it’s true. I found out later that she’s also a Gemini, so maybe we were connecting astrologically and that’s why I was so immersed. Not really. But maybe?
She alternated between a keyboard and acoustic guitar during her set. There’s wasn’t much banter but when she did talk, she had a calm voice and was funny – she mentioned how great it was to be touring with “Daddy John Misty”, tee hee. Her singing voice was low overall, but became airy and light when she hit higher notes. Her backing band was amazing, especially the drummer, who just seemed to amplify her voice instead of masking it with each beat.
Weyes Blood was only using the front part of the stage – the rest of it was set up for the main act – so my eyes were drawn to the sound guy who was totally in my eye line. He had to be about my dad’s age, maybe older, and he was seated while doing whatever it is a sound guy does.
I don’t want to say definitively that he wasn’t into it because I was too far away to actually read his face, but he didn’t seem very enthusiastic. Maybe slightly bored. Their second to last song changed that.
“Do You Need My Love” has so much yearning in it. The song builds and builds then hits this odd, high-pitched whistle that looped and got louder during the crescendo when she played it live. I guess the sound guy must have felt it too because by the time the song got to the whistle, instead of looking like he was uninterested, he was standing at attention, totally enraptured with the band like the rest of us.
After one more song, Weyes Blood was done and the lights came up. I have a thing about sitting in the right seats (obviously), so I checked and we were actually a couple of seats down from where we were supposed to be. We ended up next to a couple and after an awkward “hi” as I plopped myself down beside the dude we all started talking. He asked us where we got our tickets and it turns out that we probably bought them from the same seller. We also marvelled at how good our seats were. We were about six rows back and on the far right, but we had a clear view of the stage. At this rate, I thought, I’ll probably be able to see, like, his facial features.
The guy I was sitting beside went to get another round of drinks. I think I asked the girl if she lived in Toronto or something because we started chatting, falling into a brief silence that she broke by telling me that she really liked my skirt. This girl looked amazing– sparkly blush dress, cute boots, and a leather jacket. It’s one thing for your friends and fam to tell you that you look good. It’s next level when a stranger complements you on your outfit. At least it is for me. If you’re not obsessed with what people think of you like I am, then you won’t understand. I felt like the heart eyes emoji. I felt an immediate sisterhood with this pretty girl. “I got it from American Eagle a while ago,” I half-bragged and returned the complement for her own A+ outfit. Our conversation ended when her boyfriend came back.
I got jealous of the couple with their fresh drinks. I still had about a quarter of my cider left. What if this pre-drunk, tipsy, happy haze I was in started to wear off before the show was over? Should we get another drink now? Could we afford it? I still had enough cash to pay for another round and more merchandise if I wanted, but would I be an alcoholic if I kept drinking? Eh, I wasn’t too worried about that part, more about how whether or not someone like me, broke with limited funds, should really drop another $20 on overpriced drinks at a music show.
I thought about it for another half a second. Of course the answer was yes, but I didn’t want to look too eager. My boyfriend wasn’t finished his beer and hadn’t offered to get another one. I coyly asked him if he was maybe thinking about getting another drink. Ever the Libra and bad at making decisions, he just bounced the question back to me. “Should we get another one?” I asked. I offered to pay for it. Or was it going to be a waste of money? He was willing to have another drink too, but he also helpfully pointed out that Father John Misty was going to be on stage soon, so I’d better decide. I downed my cider, stuffed a $20 bill in his hand and told asked him to get another one.
What a great decision, I thought as he left. What a fun person I am to be around. What a great night already, what an amazing place to be. How great was my life that I got to have not one, but two drinks at a show and buy merchandise and have such great seats? Life is amazing.
Literally as soon as my partner exited the auditorium the lights went down. I felt like such a piece of shit. If I hadn’t hummed and hawed so much, he wouldn’t have had to miss the start of the show. As guilty as I felt though, I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. This was it. This is what I waited all summer for. It had better be fucking good.
The show started with an animated video of the characters on the cover of F.J.M’s Pure Comedy album. I hadn’t seen them in such detail before that point and I was impressed at how cute and creepy they looked. He was opening with “Pure Comedy”. I was dying inside.
From the angle I was sitting at, I didn’t see him until he was about centre stage. He came out in a dark blue suit, lanky and tall like a scarecrow. He had his long hair combed away from his face and a shorter-than-usual beard. He sauntered up to the mic with one hand in his jacket pocket. He was wearing Chelsea boots like he was a member of the Beatles and had a plain white button down without a tie because he’s cool like that.
He started singing and sounded exactly like the record. How insane is that when that happens? Maybe I’m just jaded. It’s like hearing a song for the first time. I forgot any and all associations I had with it. I forgot everything I thought about it before. In that moment, it felt like I heard and understood the lyrics for the first time. Did I really listen to this song before now? It was hard to tell.
My boyfriend came back with drinks. “I’m such a shit,” I told him. I apologized for making him miss the first song. He told me it was fine because they have speakers in the bar area so he could hear everything (another reason why I love Massey Hall so much).
I’m not sure that I breathed through the first four songs, which incidentally, were the first four tracks off Pure Comedy. I was just mesmerized. Father John Misty invited people to come up to the front of the stage. They went for it. I hesitated. What were the pros and cons? Were people going to be aggressive so close to the stage? I’m very sensitive. And I missed my chance. The ushers blocked any one else looking to get closer. Even a bourgeois woman got turned away. But it was okay. Our seats were so good that I didn’t mind not being right in front of this golden calf.
Maybe because I know his history or maybe it was the candelabras from earlier, I don’t know, but I thought about mass while watching Pastor Joe Muddy. The memory of church just walked into my thoughts. In that moment, feeling the music live reminded me of all the times I (kind of) sang along to hymns during mass. If you’ve never been to church, first of all, lucky you. But seriously, there’s definitely energy and anticipation that hums in the air before, during, and after service. Tillman also mentions it in the profile by Nick Paumgarten for the New Yorker: “That being said, there is no analogue for this in the secular world. The electricity in the air, the pre-service buzz, is a total narcotic to me”.
Personally, I think the energy is basically the same as the vibe that occurs before any show or play or concert or event. But I totally know what he means. Some of my first experiences with live music happened in church, so music and church are all tangled up together in my memories. I remember being in mass when I was really young and the feeling the music, the adulation, the euphoria that came with being in that particular group. I used to look at the altar with reverence. Watching Father John Misty perform on stage took me back to that feeling of gazing at something that has energy and moves you, but that you can’t touch. I always felt that the altar was off-limits because God was housed there. Here I was watching one of my favourite artists just beyond reach, on a stage that I couldn’t go near.
When people found out I was going to his show, they all said what a great performer he is and how I would really enjoy it. They weren’t more specific than that so I anticipated a lot of banter between sets, but that didn’t really happen (not that I’m complaining). Aside from the invitation to go up to the stage, there wasn’t much banter. Tillman did pause between the first few songs to explain his short beard. For those that are curious, he said that he had the wrong setting on his clippers and took a chunk out of his facial hair. “For a second I thought I could get away with it,” he said and we all laughed like the good fans we were. Someone is the crowd screamed at Tillman to do drugs with her. What a fucking loser, I thought. So basic. But I had to give it to her because at least she tried. “Do drugs with you?” he responded with a half laugh. Then he told us that if we do drugs, we should do them alone in a dark basement, keeping it under wraps so our friends and family have no idea. Then he kept on playing.
And that’s when it happened. I was so into the show, but something started to distract me, creeping up on me even though I tried to ignore it. At this point in the evening, I had had three ciders with no bathroom break except for the one I made before we left for the venue. My body was telling me it was time.
I thought that maybe I could hold it. Maybe I could go through the rest of the show without skipping out to make a pit stop. I ignored the distress signal from my bladder. I didn’t want to miss a song or a moment. Mind over matter. But the cider in my belly wouldn’t co-operate. Okay, I thought, let’s see what the next song is and then maybe I’ll go. There was no way I was going to miss one of my favourites. But the urge was becoming a pressing matter. It was now or never and I didn’t want to get stuck in line right after the show. He started playing “Only Son of a Ladies Man” and I’ve listened to it so many times that I felt like I could miss it.
I walked as briskly as I could without looking like a crazy person. Just rush in and rush out and it would be like I didn’t miss anything at all, I figured. I slipped into the bathroom quickly and realized that I totally forgot that Massey Hall also has speakers in the bathroom. As I did my business, it was like I wasn’t missing anything at all. And I was back just in time to watch him perform “When the God of Love Returns”.
When F.J.M sings, he really performs. When I first started listening to him, I remember thinking that his singing voice was a lot higher than I expected. He reminded me of Elton John on Pure Comedy, maybe because of all the classic rock vibes and the piano playing. I put on the album when my parents were over once and my dad said that he sounded like Jackson Browne, specifically on the song “Somebody’s Baby”. I don’t really hear it, but I always thought the connection was interesting. Why does my dad think that Father John sounds like Jackson Browne? We’ll never know.
Anyway, I know this sound obvious, but I think there’s a difference between people who sing and people who perform. F.J.M would pose and make gestures. While singing “When the God of Love Returns”, he gestured with one hand with his other arm crossed in front of his chest as if he was giving a soliloquy. He lifted his head and his hand and just when I thought he wasn’t going to do it, smacked himself in the forehead while he sang. He was close enough to the mic that I could hear the slap of skin.
He moved around, back and forth, towards the crowd and then skipped back towards the microphone. He also danced a lot. He would pick up a guitar and play, sometimes swinging it around while he moved. The back and forth, up to the edge of the stage and back down again was his signature step that night. He did it most during “Nancy from Now On” and “True Affection”; the latter song had a pulsating pink heart and green laser lights. On sexier songs like “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “Real Love Baby”, he swung his hips.
Father John Misty gets a lot of flack for being an asshole. Even as a fan, I can admit that the reputation isn’t necessarily unwarranted. He’s admitted that he can be a dick. I kind of like it. Honestly, I just think most of the time it’s on purpose to be funny or scathing.
Anyway, I guess I assume that anyone with a mixed relationship with the media, who does a lot of drugs, and is jaded would also have a hard time with their fans. But F.J.M was really cute about it. When the show was inevitably done, he went up and shook hands with those at the front of the stage. He put his index finger to his lips as if he had a secret. He mouthed “I’ll be back” to them as he and the band made their way off stage.
And sure enough he was. Obviously he wasn’t going to leave without an encore. When he came back out, he sang “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain”. My favourite part of the song is when he sings “the slower, the better, the slower, the better” and when he sang it live, it did feel like a quiet, intimate moment for all of us.
When he sang the lines “these days the years thin til I can’t remember just what it feels like to be young forever” I felt like I could take that moment and remember it for the rest of my life. Because I just turned 31 this year and things are not where I expected them to be, really. I’m still broke. Retail is still my main source of income. I’m not a writer (yet). I’ve lost a lot of friends who I thought, for a long time, were my core group of people.
Everything feels different, not necessarily good or like they’re going to get better for me any time soon. Most days I feel incredibly lonely. Sometimes I think about all the things I did in my 20s and how it felt at the time to go out and let lose and have fun; to do something wildly different from the day-to-day bullshit of working life; to see a performance and enjoy live music. What did it feel like, inside, when 30 was a world away and 24 was a life sentence? I don’t remember.
He followed it up with “Holy Shit” from I Love You, Honeybear. With everything going on, it’s no wonder I clung to the line “and no one really knows you and life is brief so I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this black hole in me?” It’s an acoustic song and like I said, F.J.M performs. In that crowded venue, surrounded by people I didn’t know or couldn’t see, it felt like I was close to them too. It was warm and embracing.
And that was that. The lights came up, but Father John Misty didn’t leave right away. He spent some more time with fans, shaking or grasping their hands, smiling and thanking them. My boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go up. In that post show haze where you feel invincible, I decided to try to create a moment.
I didn’t want to push too hard. Ever conscious of what I’m doing, how I’m behaving, and what I look like, I didn’t want to look too eager or like a crazed woman. I hung back slightly, but when he started coming towards me I stretched out my hand, like those Evangelicals who reach out during service to try and touch the Holy Spirit. We almost touched, but I was too far back. I think we locked eyes though and I smiled and waved. All in all, it was enough.
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