I think it’s safe to say that Josh Tillman has one of the best, if not the best, voices in indie rock. If his soaring high notes on “Ballad of the Dying Man,” or his ability to switch from a soulful emotional tribute on “Honeybear”‘s “Strange Encounter” to gruff half-yelled confessions on “The Ideal Husband” didn’t convince me of that already, seeing him live always confirms it.
Tillman played for a solid two hours with minimal breaks to talk (aside from a quick quip about how hacky sacks are lame, something to the effect of “No, that’s it. I’m not going to say anything funny” after thanking the crowd for coming, and thanking his booking agency because “Without them I’d be unemployed. I’m serious.”), and he managed to keep the same vibrancy and performative energy throughout the set.The backdrop is transformed into the night sky, one of my favourite parts of the light show.
That’s something that always impresses me about Tillman-his abilities not just as a singer, but as a performer. He doesn’t just sing his songs, he jumps inside them, performing the emotional and personal twists and turns through jumping around the stage, writhing on the floor, throwing his arms back and wailing to the ceiling, or even just dropping to his knees in a show of defeat. The stage explodes in radiance in time with the rising and swelling of the music.
I think what makes these moments where Tillman is so overtaken by emotion so impactful comes down to two factors. First, his amazing veneer of showmanship and professionalism when he takes the stage and interacts with the crowd, snarking back at their obscure comments without batting an eye and appearing calm and sophisticated from the first note. Second would be how personal his lyrics are. As a writer, it’s admirable to me how willing Tillman is to search his own heart and mind and pull the weirdest and most emotional stories up into the spotlight. I think it’s a quality of bravery that makes for such relatable works, and I hope my work is able to have that quality when I’m writing professionally.My concert companion, awe-struck by the audience-encompassing light show.
The venue was also perfect. We were at the Palace Theatre (I went with a friend who came into town to visit) and were up in the balcony. We had the perfect downward-facing view at Tillman and his band, and his beautiful light show that encompassed the entire building (my personal favourites were when he has a globe lit up behind him, and when a beating heart appeared where the spotlight pointed during “True Affection”). Turning the stage into a fiery sun during “Things it Would’ve Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution.”
But the best part, for me, had to be the ending. We got a wild, visceral, aggressive rendition of “The Ideal Husband,” my all-time favourite FJM song. Tillman boldly screamed his lines about how “I’ve said awful things” and how he’s “obsessing over graying hairs,” creating an electrified atmosphere as the crowd screamed the final refrain of “Wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?” along with him.“So I’m growing old on Magic Mountain…”
All in all, it was a fantastic night of music worth every cent. Tillman played every song I was hoping to hear, and kept the set list pretty “Pure Comedy” and “Honeybear” heavy (which, since “I Love You, Honeybear” is my favourite of his, I was pretty satisfied with). It was a treat to see the man in his element in an indoor venue as opposed to in 90-degree weather in front of a rowdy Lolla crowd (not that that wasn’t amazing, and not that I wasn’t screaming “Marry me Josh Tillman” at him) like I did two years ago.Thanks for the night, FJM. Always a pleasure.
And I’ve heard he’s already back in the studio making new music, so I can’t wait to hear what he creates next, and see him tour wherever I end up after graduation again.
Thanks for reading, and God bless. Happy Thanksgiving if you’re celebrating tomorrow!