Josh Tillman's first ever gig in the Latvian capital was a roaring success
Cai Trefor
19:30 14th August 2019

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An adoring crowd gathered at the sockless feet of Father John Misty in Latvia’s capital city Riga last night.

The charismatic hitmaker, whose real name is Josh Tillman, was fresh from performing at Flow Festival in Finland. The band had a considerably smaller audience compared with said major fest: around 800 people turned up to see them play their first show ever in this Baltic country at Palladium.

An intimate affair, there was no barrier in front of the stage; any noise made between songs could have an impact on the set, or be useful fodder for Tillman’s chat between tunes. Charmingly, all the interaction between Rockville, Maryland-raised Tillman and the crowd felt positive.

A thank you for coming from the crowd – words indicative of the fact Riga is often overlooked by touring acts – seems to mean a lot to the former Fleet Fox, who is definitely used to bigger stages than this. Tillman, meanwhile, played a perfect rendition of ‘Nancy From Now On’ and heard a loud choir sing his words back at him. You could see relief in his eyes in that moment; he could sense everyone sufficiently loosened up. Immediately after the tune finished, he said he is always blown away when people in places he’s ever been sing the words back at him. You could tell he meant it, and that he’ll never tire of it. Afterall, the Tillman's songcraft is that of a lifer and no gimmick; it’s no wonder he’s a global success.

Deserving of great songs are a great band and the sound of the eight-piece, whose dress code is seemingly groomed beard and smart dress, was stupidly good. Such is the quality of the gear they'd shipped in, you could take a feed from the mixing desk and make a record of the mix.

Of the stand out cuts, the distorted, garage-y chords of Tillman's breakthrough hit, ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings', were commanding and comfortably familiar, since it’s a track that feels integral to the identity of this band.

Meanwhile, ‘Ballad of a Dying Man’ was the most overt reminder of the singer’s ability to write handmade rock n’ roll instrumentation of the highest order and weave it with lyrics that are on the relevant tip; black humoured, and sharply observant of the way people behave and speak today. The lines, “Eventually the dying man takes his final breath / But first checks his news feed to see what he's 'bout to miss,” are especially wry, and strong.

Throughout last night's set, I luxuriated in heartfelt melodies, whether they were coming from flute, sax, voice, experimental guitar solos, keys, or harmonica. I felt secure in the unwavering grip of the vintage-sounding bass guitar groove. But if there was something missing, it was the chance to let loose and dance vigorously. Luckily, armed with 2012 hit 'I’m Writing a Novel' and ‘Date night’, the climax of the set was all about having one last blow out and the riffs of the lighting fingered rhythmic keys player Kyle Flynn propelled it.

Exiting the stage, Tillman looked back at the crowd, and with the lights turned up, he saw those adoring fans at the front row who had handcrafted an 'I Love You, Honeybear' banner, and smiled. Small numbers in the Palladium but big gestures. I think he'll be very welcome back should he manage a second date.

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Photo: Krists Luhaers