But Tillman's problem isn't just religion. On stage, Tillman's contempt for Colorado Springs and its symbolic significance came off as just a piece of his larger contempt for, well … what, exactly? Everything? Including his own music? Tillman struck his pose of contempt early on, and he couldn't contain it, couldn't pinpoint Christian fundamentalism as the problem full stop. His ire soon blanketed everything, overwhelming his every gesture, his every expression. Each sincere, thoughtful song on Fear Fun turned out to be a joke, and the joke was on us. Tillman sang and danced insincerely to his own tunes, shaking his hips ironically, wagging his finger at no one in particular, and generally offering a vision of drunken frat-boy karaoke. Imagine a performer that is equal parts Russell Brand and Prince-on-Quaaludes, and you'll have some sense of Father John Misty.
"I'm glad you're here," he told us at one point, perhaps realizing that it was an open question. "Otherwise, this would be some sort of weird conceptual art."
The songs on Fear Fun I had been marinating in, taking seriously, and flat-out enjoying for weeks on end are now laden with Tillman's pathetic but enthusiastic irony—and are more or less ruined by it. Take a lyric like "How was I to know / That milk and honey flow / Just a couple states below" from the song "Nancy From Now On" and perform it with a look at me hip shake, finger wag, and batted eyes. The attitude depletes the lines of their mournful energy. It's a net loss for the music.
Ruining a beautiful song
Late in the set, Tillman seemed to catch himself. He paced for a few seconds, then offered: "I was about to say something. But instead, let's just listen to this beautiful song." He nodded to his lead guitarist, who—and surely I'm reading into this—looked relieved as he began to fill the void with something worth hearing.
Good performers have bad nights. I'd like to imagine a different kind of Father John Misty show in a town that doesn't push Tillman's ex-fundamentalist buttons, and indeed, I've read show reviews that describe Tillman as genuinely funny. Maybe he can be. Maybe he had a touch too much to drink beforehand, or, as Tillman offered at one point, "These might be altitude-induced asides." Maybe this town just brought out the worst in him.
Colorado Springs has long been fair game for mocking. I'd be the chief of hypocrites were I to complain about someone complaining about the culture of this city. It's the birthright of many of us who call the city home, and we're pretty practiced at it. Living here happily means coming to terms with the city's entrenched religious culture, and coming to terms with that culture means being able to laugh at its many foibles.
So hey, Father John: We get it—Colorado Springs is a weird evangelical town. We know it, and the likes of Colin Meloy and Jeff Tweedy seem to know we know it. We're in on the joke. Should you ever return, keep that in mind, and don't let us ruin your beautiful songs.