The Night Josh Tillman Came to Madison, Wisconsin

  • Post Author
    by Music director
  • Post Date
    Tue Aug 29 2023


The first thing you need to know about the Father John Misty/Head and The Heart show at the Sylvee is that it was five hours long. The second is that I invented a game to play in between sets called “Find Guys Who Look Like Father John Misty At The Father John Misty Show,” which we gave up almost immediately because it was way too easy.

Ending their run of shows together with a two night engagement at the Sylvee, the Head and the Heart and Father John Misty ever so gently rocked the house. Opener Miya Folick kicked off the marathon-length setlist with soothing, airy vocals and delicate acoustic arrangements; I recommend her latest album ROACH if you like Julia Jacklin, Tomberlin and pretending to be Stevie Nicks spinning around on stage while dancing in your kitchen.


The Head and the Heart have been on my radar for nearly a decade at this point, although I've never done a true deep dive into their discography. From “Rivers and Roads,” a certified music supervisor classic, to “Honeybee,” a certified Wisconsin radio favorite, they played the hits I knew as well as a few deeper cuts. Their rootsy indie rock sound translated to the live performance without a hitch; tracks like “Lost In My Mind,” a personal favorite of mine, had no less energy than I'm sure they did in 2011 when their self-titled album – a runaway word-of-mouth hit – was rereleased by iconic Seattle label Sub Pop Records.


Until last spring, I knew very little about Josh Tillman – better known by his stage name, Father John Misty. The only fact I could have shared, for better or for worse, was that he was the author of this post:

On a whim, I reviewed his latest album, Chloë and the Next 20th Century, for WSUM's Adds & Picks; somewhere between “Chloë” and “The Next 20th Century,” I fell deeply, unabashedly in love with his eclectic style of songwriting and razor-sharp wit. He pulls elements from countless genres from Tin Pan Alley to contemporary indie rock, tying them together with his trademark penchant for absurdity and his warm, powerful vocals. Musically, he's somewhere between Lana Del Rey, Sufjan Stevens, and a Class A narcotic.

As he performed, the crowd ebbed and flowed between quiet reverence and raucous appreciation. Of course, he played the hits – “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins),” “I Love You Honeybear,” and “God's Favorite Customer,” to name a few – but left time for lesser-known gems as well, like “This is Sally Hatchet” and “So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain.” Dressed in a simple black suit and white tank, Tillman sang every song like it was his last; the well-oiled machine of a band behind him met the high bar set by the recordings and then some. Dreamy lighting in rich shades of pink and blue illuminated the stage like a psychedelic sunset. By the grace of god, I only cried once.


For a lyricist I'd lovingly call verbose, Tillman on stage is a man of few words. Or maybe he was just thinking about the Instagram story he posted recently that was a picture of someone I believe to be Ryan Gosling with the (obviously edited) text “Me after I realize I spoke too much at the concer[t] & wasn't mysterious like I planned.” Either way, it wasn't really a drawback, because it probably shaved a good ten minutes off the behemoth of a show and/or gave him the time to squeeze another song or two into the setlist.

Almost as soon as the last notes of the encore rang out, the lights came up and people around me started to leave. Dazed and beaming, I let my eyes linger on the stage for just a little while longer and then turned to find the floor almost empty. It felt like something out of a fairy tale – a magical, traveling circus that vanishes as quickly as it appears. On top of that, I'd only just noticed how desperately in need of a snack, sleep, and more than just a sip of water I was; not once in the past five hours, until the music stopped, did I think of any of those things at all.

With a full heart, an empty stomach, and a faint ringing in my ears, I took off. I've got to go cheat my way through film school. As for Father John Misty, he hasn't left my head since.