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Father John Misty at New York’s Rainbow Room: Concert Review

“The only way that this could be more elegant,” said Father John Misty as he surveyed the crowd in New York’s legendary Rainbow Room, a venue that epitomizes elegance, “is if we had three tables heaped with shrimp cocktails.”

He wasn’t wrong. The opulent venue, opened in 1934 and located on the 65th floor of 30 Rock, has multiple chandeliers, a sunken, circular dancefloor and a 15 or so floor-to-ceiling windows offering breathtaking views of Midtown Manhattan and beyond, with the Empire State Building’s nightly light show occasionally distracting from the performance onstage. It is an inspired and more than perfect setting for the man also known as Joshua Tillman to perform his fifth and latest album as Father John Misty, “Chloe and the New 20th Century,” released last Friday, which finds him paired with the kind of big-band musicians who used to occupy this stage regularly back in the day. (Read Variety‘s review of the album here.)

While no one wore tuxes, he nonetheless took the concept to its fullest: some 15-odd musicians were sprawled across the stage and beyond, with guitarists, keyboardists, and a rhythm section accompanied by horns, a string quartet and even a tympanist. The group performed the entire album in sequence in front of a full red velvet curtain that spanned the entire side of the room, with giant old-time-movie spotlights facing the crowd and off to the sides.

In the middle of the early set, the word “curtains” was heard squawking from a stagehand’s walkie-talkie, and on cue the curtains opened, revealing a cloudy Manhattan skyline at dusk; many audience members abandoned their hard-won spots to gaze at the view. But owing to the low stage and sunken dancefloor, the best vantage point was at the elevated section all the way at the back, where you could take in the view, the chandeliers, the lights and the show all at the same time, revealing even more musicians who were out of the field of vision up close (and the polite ushers did not shoo you off of the stairs).

Actually, Father John’s current look — a close-shorn crewcut and bushy beard, along with a wifebeater and a nice blue suit jacket — was the only thing off-brand from the elegant theme, but hey, formal wear would have been so obvious. In fact, the show featured few musical surprises — although the fact that Father John Misty issued a big-band album was a sufficient surprise in itself. He punctuated the set with his characteristically verbose and not-entirely-linear between-song banter, with at least three references to shrimp cocktails and an odd story about how his bungalow in the Hollywood Hills was formerly occupied by Val Kilmer while he was filming “Batman” in the mid-1990s, and somehow that spirit imbued one of the album’s songs, “Q4.”

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Kat Harris

Oddly, the musicians took the stage by walking through the crowd — accompanied by flashlight-bearing security, of course — which put them in an awkward position when they’d finished the album and it was time to play an encore, or not. After thanking the crowd for “indulging and end-to-end album experience” — which can be anticlimactic with less suitable material — Father John acknowledged the situation and called the musicians who were making their way offstage back, and listened while the crowd called out requests (side note: anyone who still yells out “Free Bird” after all these decades deserves a lifetime ban from all concerts).

The overwhelming consensus was for the title track of his 2015 album “I Love You, Honey Bear” and he obliged with a version that had the crown enraptured; the addition of the strings and horns made for a sumptuous expanded arrangement, and raises hopes for other songs in his catalog that might get similar treatment when he tours in earnest later this year.

Not that anyone left this show disappointed. “Chloe and the Next 20th Century” at the Rainbow Room is such a perfect match that simply being there felt like dinner at the Ritz.

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