Photo Credit: BBC (All Photos)
The final night of the Radio 6 Festival begins with a brief performance from Evangeline Ling and David Wrench – the duo who blend pop, House, and post-punk to create truly distinctive music. While their stage presence is low-key, and young vocalist Ling seems understandably nervous at the start of her set, the two’s short performance is undeniably tantalizing; a showcase of one of Britain’s more interesting musical acts – and one that has slowly gained acclaim among the UK press. Next up is Gruff Rhys, who is best known for his membership of Cardiff-based Super Furry Animals – a band who have the bittersweet distinction of having the most UK top 75 hits without ever reaching the top 10. With 30 years of experience performing live, Rhys is a charismatic crowd-pleaser – who proudly leans into his Welsh roots across 36 minutes. His performance – which consists of several older and newer tracks – has few obvious standout moments, but is buoyed by his deft rock and pop sensibilities that are consistently compelling.
After a brief intermission, the audience starts to properly fill out in anticipation of Cat Power’s set. Having just flown into the UK that day, Cat – real name Chan Marshall – performs in front of two side-by-side microphones; one that projects her voice unvarnished, and another that applies a heavy layer of auto-tune. Guided by little more than the humble piano, Marshall spends 45 minutes playing a mixture of staggering originals and the covers for which she is more famously known. While her songs all adopt a fairly similar sonic palette, there’s a breath-taking quiet power to her music – with her voice and her writing, she is capable of expressing sorrow like no other.
The last and longest performance of the night is saved for Josh “Father John Misty” Tillman – who performs for a total of 93 minutes. In anticipation of his performance, the stage is physically expanded and filled with a spectacular array of instruments, as well half-a-dozen or so members of the National Welsh orchestra. Any worries of audience fatigue following the previous 3 performances are quickly dashed by the rapturous applause Tillman receives upon entering the stage.
At the time of his performance, the former Fleet Foxes drummer was days away from releasing his new, ’50s big-band-inspired album Chloë and the Next 20th Century. However, his set tonight features no deep cuts from that album, and rather than a set in support of that album, this instead feels more like a career retrospective, masterfully blending work from five fantastic LPs. Perhaps, then, Tillman here is less focused on his upcoming album and is looking ahead to another milestone; the upcoming tenth anniversary of his first album as Father John Misty, Fear Fun – the album that saw him move out from behind the scenes and become one of modern-day indie rock’s most important (and most polarizing) figures.
Tillman’s critics have chastised the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist as pretentious and overly self-serious, yet on stage, he’s affable – dropping jokes and witty observations in between some of the most devastating songs released in the last decade. Performing a mixture of full-band, melodic numbers (“Mr. Tillman”, “Hangout at the Gallows”) and heart-wrenching, minimalist ballads (namely, the sprawling “Ballad of the Dying Man”), Tillman proves diversity to be his greatest strength. For all the mystification that has come with Tillman’s ten years as Father John Misty – the strung-out interviews, the lyrical references to “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift,” the unpredictable stylistic shifts from album to album – it (nearly) all feels justified now. Time has been kind to Father John Misty, and as he jokes and dances across the stage – thrusting the microphone stand from side to side in the process – it is clear one is watching the performance of a man utterly victorious; a man with nothing left to prove.