With the New Year upon us, I now have a new opportunity to recap what turned out to be my favorite concert of 2017 –which is saying something given that Taryn and I also saw an extraordinary Run The Jewels concert last January! So I present to you dear readers, my retrospective on my favorite musical experience of 2017: a free Father John Misty concert at Third Man Records in Nashville, TN on September 26th. I have no idea where to even start. How do you accurately explain to someone who, or really, what, Father John Misty is? A man? A myth? A persona? Ryan Adam’s mortal enemy (A.K.A. his least favorite Twitter user)?! I usually like to tell people he’s the guy Taryn and I plan to follow around the globe, with llamas and alpacas in tow (to add some requisite hipster aesthetic), so that we can learn some acid-induced wisdom from him at 3am (Dead Heads have nothing on us in this fantasy music world we’ve created for ourselves).
Taryn and I have been charmed by FJM since we first saw him live at Bonnaroo in 2013. The rest of the world? There’s no clear consensus. He ignites passionate debate. I honestly don’t know many people who have a mild, middle, ‘safe’ opinion. The music press seems confused by him, his fans adore him on a hysterical level (I refer you back to my and Taryn’s insane world trekking plan to stalk him), and those who despise him are just as equally vehement in their disdain (seriously, check out this article on the Ryan Adams’ Twitter feud).
For my part, before the near mystical experience at Third Man Records on Tuesday September 26th, 2017, I’d been lucky enough to see him live three previous times. The first time, was on a magical Thursday night at Bonnaroo back in 2013. Anyone who’s been to Roo knows that Thursday night can either make or break your festival. He was the third artist we saw that night and I had only vague knowledge of him and of a song or two, but he definitely made an impression on us.
His Bonnaroo set was undoubtedly one of those “lightening moments” in my life, it meant that much to me. Seeing him live for the first time brought out of me a kind of unexpected excitement and joy that I can hardly describe. It was truly electric seeing him on stage. He was wild, bouncing all over the place, twisting and turning, sliding on his feet, and slamming down to his knees in ecstasy. More than once, we feared he was going to accidentally choke on his microphone chord. He was fully immersed in the songs he was singing, completely committed to some otherworldly Spirit of Music that few are privileged to know.
Bonnaroo 2013 was the year Paul McCartney played, and seeing Macca was the most amazing concert experience I’ve ever had in my life -but, even after the comedown from Roo, Taryn and I still talked about how great FJM was. That’s how much he stuck in my mind. I immediately bought his album, Fear Fun, the week after Bonnaroo and it was the album I had on constant repeat the entire summer of 2013. I can’t think of 2013 or anything that was going on in my life at that time without hearing those songs in my head.
Sometime during our incessant gushings and ramblings over the months, Taryn and I made a sacred vow to see FJM live at every available opportunity. He released his next album, I Love You Honeybear, in 2015 and Taryn gave me the greatest Christmas present ever: tickets to see him in Nashville that coming March!
The second time seeing him live, was somehow more incredible than the first. This time we weren’t in a festival setting, we were at a venue called Music Marathon Works, and we were right up close to the stage. We were so close that at various points in the show I could have easily touched him. If I thought he was electric and wild at Bonnaroo two years before, than he was on another plane of existence during this show.
Seeing him up close and personal, in a closed venue (as opposed to an open, outdoor festival), hot off a second album, with a full backing band, and accompanied by an at times almost garish light show –it was otherworldly. He was dressed in a black suite (before at Bonnaroo he was dressed very casually, like he was in his street clothes), with his beard and hair longer than before. Impossibly he seemed to be some kind of second coming of James Brown and Elvis Presley with how he gave in to that aforementioned Spirit of Music and fell on to the stage floor and later shook his hips while playing his guitar.
I remember wanting to capture my thoughts and feelings at the time, and write up an article for Concert Hopper, describing the phenomenal event, but I honestly was too blown away. I was left speechless by the concert. It was a longer, more exhilarating, version of what I’d experienced at Bonnaroo. I don’t drink or do drugs, but after this, my belief that a person could easily “get high” from merely witnessing live music was solidified.
The third time I saw him live was at Bonnaroo in 2016. This year he was upgraded to the Which Stage (second biggest stage at the festival) on a Sunday afternoon. I remember wanting to see Kurt Vile who was playing the same stage right before FJM, and sadly feeling like I was about to pass out during his set. It was outrageously hot that afternoon and both Kurt and FJM were scheduled to play smack dab in the middle of the afternoon. My commitment to FJM though is strong, because I somehow miraculously revived enough to stand up and sing along to his set that afternoon. I don’t remember what he joked about, but I remember laughing along to his stage banter and briefly praying that he wasn’t going to pass out up on stage due to the evil weather. I vaguely recall that he was as energetic as could be expected given the circumstances, that he played his guitar more than he had the previous times I had seen him, and that I somehow managed to enjoy it all and not die of the unforgiving afternoon heat.
This past February, he was on the cusp of releasing his third album, and he had announced his upcoming tour. He was going to be playing the Ryman in Nashville come September, and of course I was eager to purchase tickets and try to go –which means that the Universe had other plans and due to financial circumstances, I was unable to secure tickets before they sold out. You can only imagine my heartache and disappointment.
Fast forward to Thursday September 21st, 2017. I was on my break at work when I received a Facebook notification that Taryn had shared an event with me –Father John Misty was going to be doing a free concert at Third Man Records in Nashville that coming Tuesday (the same day as his sold out Ryman show)! I was instantly delighted and then just as quickly dismayed. The free concert was in five days, in the middle of a work day, and geographically over 2 hours away. It seemed as if the Universe was again, working against me. This was another cruel tease, there was no way I’d be able to go to this.
I thought long and hard, and on a whim decided to just go ahead and ask my manager if I could have Tuesday off. I worked up my courage, telling myself that it was completely ok if I was denied this request, it was last minute after all. I’m here to tell each and everyone one of you, that not all stories have a preordained, terrible ending; sometimes a plot twist gets thrown in and the narrative takes a different direction, a direction for the best. My manager was kind enough to grant my day off request and I immediately made plans with Taryn to do what we could to get into this free concert.
The concert was to take place on Tuesday September 26th, 2017 at Third Man Records in Nashville. It was a free show, but it only had a 250 person capacity and would be ‘first come, first serve’. To top it off, this also wasn’t going to be just any ole free concert. Father John Misty would being doing a solo, acoustic set, and Third Man was going to record the performance, held in the famous Blue Room, via their unique, one of a kind, direct-to-acetate method.
I need to take a moment to stop rambling about my thoughts and feelings regarding FJM and explain why this whole thing, regardless of who is performing, is so fascinating. Third Man Records, an independent record label with locations in Detroit and Nashville, is the beautiful lovechild of the one and only Mr Jack White. He established the first physical location for the label in Nashville back in 2009. Since then it has served not only as a gift shop/record store, but also as a performance venue and headquarters for the label in Music City, USA. Taryn and I got to enjoy it as a venue in 2014 when we got to see a set from comedian Demetri Martin. So we knew it was going to be a fantastic venue to see a concert.
Third Man Records is also, perhaps more importantly, known for the fascinating, distinctive, and innovative way it is impacting the vinyl record industry. One of Third Man’s mottos is “your turntable is not dead” and they are making damn sure you know it too! Their Nashville location is the ONLY venue in the world that has direct-to-acetate capabilities. Nowhere else can you watch an artist perform a song and simultaneously watch it being recorded to a vinyl disc right before your eyes. It is truly a one of a kind experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
[As a side note, Third Man Records is one of the most interesting places to visit in Nashville (and I would assume Detroit even though I haven’t been there yet), and they are basically doing God’s work when it comes to the music industry in my opinion. They’re worth your time exploring and checking out and honestly if I hadn’t rambled so much about FJM already, I could probably easily have made this an unsolicited Third Man advertisement, ha!]
I can’t articulate properly, how hyped I was leading up to the day of the concert. I could barely contain myself. Even on five or less hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed early to get ready and get in line. The show was supposed to start at 12:30pm, doors opening at noon, but I knew the FJM faithful would be there lined up in eager anticipation long before then. Taryn, her boyfriend Brian (who thankfully drove, because I was not mentally focused or rested enough to do so myself), and I got there and got in line right before 10am. It was going to be 90 degrees outside and we were blessed to be near the front of the line under a canopy, near the entrance to The Blue Room.
The show started later than advertise (I believe they were adjusting sound, not sure) and we were all restless and becoming exhausted from the heat by the time they finally opened the doors and let us in the fabled Blue Room. We were able to get up front, Taryn was the right side of the stage when facing it, and I was right behind her. We were beside the authorized photographers and directly in front of the record pressing room. The TV screen showing the recording in progress was right about the photographers, so we were able to turn and watch it on the screen as well as look in to the booth in front of us (eventually they curtained the booth, but it was enough to know that it was directly behind the glass not 12 feet in front of us!).
FJM strolled out, hair looking like he’d just rolled out of bed, blazer casually draped over his frame, sipping a large cup of tea he had in his hand. It all had the air of a laid-back, yet intimate atmosphere. It felt like he was our friend, who was just now waking up and favoring us with a relaxing guitar show. I’ve enjoyed acoustic shows before, but this never once felt formal or staged or anything less than friendly and accessible.
The procedure was that FJM would start with a single, that would be pressed before us in the booth (shown onscreen), and that at the end of the show, it’d be given to a randomly selected audience member as a souvenir. After that, FJM would then record for about 20 minutes, and that would be the first side of the album, he’d then take a five minute break, and record another 20 minutes for the second side of the album (again the recording would be show onscreen for us to watch alongside the performance). That album would then be available for purchase after the show and in the ensuing months, copies would be pressed on specially colored vinyl and delivered to us accordingly (I’m still waiting on mine by the way, eagerly so). A gentleman from Third Man had come out and explained all of this, how the recording process would work, and how we were expected to behave during it. He advised us to try not to be unruly or interruptive because this was all getting pressed to record and was going to be permanent. Our coughing and sniffling would be immortal –so no pressure for the artist or audience!
Right off the bat, after some banter in attempt to ease our collective anxiety (and debuting a new song, “Mr. Tillman, Welcome Back” in order to adjust the soundboard), FJM started playing and a few moments in, realized he had started with the wrong song for the single! Never a truer sign that this was natural and really happening right in front of us -FJM, he’s human too. After cracking a few jokes about the snafu, he got on with it, belting out a near perfect version of “Now I’m Learning to Love the War”.
He ultimately only recorded eight songs for the live album (ten total songs for the audience when you include the song debut and the song he did for the single), but each one was a unique and fantastic performance. I am not articulate enough to give a play by play assessment of each number and why each one was out of this world, or how each song was being pressed in my heart and my memory just as much as it was being pressed on the acetate in front of me. All I’m capable of is trying to express how much this show meant to me and how exceptional it was.
I’ve seen FJM live before, I’ve seen acoustic shows before, but I have never before had such a wonderful, one of a kind, live experience like I did at Third Man Records that afternoon in late September. It was not only the best concert I saw in 2017, but one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life (and I’ve been blessed to see such amazing acts as Sir Paul McCartney and attend amazing venues like the Ryman in Nashville). Third Man Records hosted and Father John Misty performed a once in a lifetime, live musical event, that can never be replicated.
I struggle to find an appropriate way to end this piece, to ‘wrap this up’. It’s hard to put into words just how much of a big deal this was to me personally. I do think it’s significant to mention that one of the missions of Third Man Records, of Jack White, is to deliver these sorts of memorable live experiences to music fans. It’s not solely about saving the music industry, but also about keeping the fire of fan enthusiasm alive. “Your turntable is not dead” and neither is the live concert. Third Man Records took the otherwise typical one-man-and-his-guitar concept to another level and gave the audience, gave me, something to cherish and appreciate forever and I can’t thank Father John Misty or Third Man Records enough.
Now I just await my vinyl memento so that I can spin it and replay the images in my mind over and over again!
You can view the set list here. Do yourself a favor and watch the short clip below.