The pairing of New York city based alt-rock icons the Walkmen and Seattle based country-folk upstarts Father John Misty would seem like a strange choice as the two bands embarked on a North American tour this week. Given the formers venture into Americana sounds on last years excellent ‘In Heaven‘ with the latters reputation as a rocking live band however, it could be seen as a great symbiotic experiment for each of them.
First to the stage was Father John Misty, the recording and stage name of former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman. Taking the So-Cal laid back feel of his former band and melding it with a sonic country bombast, Tillman and his band made the Danforth Music Hall feel like a rowdy whiskey soaked juke joint. ‘Father John’ slinked around the stage like an electrified spaghetti noodle, folding and flopping while gyrating his hips as he delivered his soulful gospellized lyrics with a distinct West Coast feel. Twangy guitars brushed up against honky tonk keys, while the drummer pounded away keeping the band in time throughout. Given the laid back vibe that Tillman projected, I would count him lucky that his percussionist was able to accomplish such a feat.
Drawing on material from their debut album ‘Fear Fun’, Father John Misty brought some summertime feel on this chilly January night in Toronto. Tillmans’ between song banter was quite witty in contrast to the somewhat dark tone that some of the lyrics in his music might project. He even touched on the fact that this was their 4th time gracing our city with their presence in the past year, referring to themselves as a ‘local band’ now, while name dropping Toronto hipster haunts such as Dark Horse Coffee as evidence as to how entrenched they had become as a local live fixture. Given the crowds reaction to each song they played you might actually believe his claims as well.
Once the stage change was complete the Walkmen took over with an almost business-like attitude, kicking things off with one of their first ever singles. 2002’s piano driven stomper ‘We’ve been had’.
As if to show that they did indeed mean business, the band proceeded to tear directly into what might be their most defining song, ‘Bows and Arrows‘ highlight ‘The Rat‘. That the vets decided to open their set with what might be their 2 biggest singles, songs that most bands would have relegated to encore standards at this stage in their career, was a welcome surprise that also served to remind us just how deep their catalogue is.
Throughout the show lead singer Hamilton Leithauser controlled the stage with a dominating presence, draped in a fine suit like some kind of punk rock Michael Buble. The minimal lighting which consisted mainly of a powerful floodlight behind drummer Matt Barrick cast incredible shadows against the Danforth’s pale blue walls, adding a haunting vibe to the moodiness of the set which was well balanced between well worn classics and cuts from their latest effort. Fan favourites such as ‘In The New Year’ were met with raucous applause, while main set closer ‘We Can’t Be Beat”s ‘oooh’s’ and ‘ohhh’s’ were matched by the audience in a manner that you would expect to hear at a European soccer match.
Surprisingly the band played only one encore, perhaps having dispatched with this formality by playing through enough of their ‘big hits’ during the set. One poor audience member had even made a sign to request a song, however Leithauser had to let her down by informing her that he remembered the song but couldn’t recall how to play it-both the blessing and the curse of a band who have released 7 fantastic studio albums over the past decade.
After an hour and 15 minutes the Walkmen concluded their set leaving the stage with the same workmanlike attitude with which they entered, a stark contrast to their tourmates laid back and mellow persona to open the show. With this only being the 2nd date on the tour it remains to be seen whether the 2 will rub off on one another, which might be for the best as we really like each group just the way they are.
The Walkmen set list:
We’ve Been Had
Love is Luck
On the Water
In The New Year
The Blue Route
Line by Line
Blue as your Blood
All Hands and the Cook
Angela Surf City
We Can’t Be Beat