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Father John Misty & The Head and the Heart Bring Magical Intimacy to Santa Barbara Bowl

Pop Break Live: Father John Misty and The Head and The Heart with Miya Folick at the Santa Barbara Bowl in Santa Barbara, CA on August 13, 2023

Matt Gervais of The Head and the Heart remarked during his set at the Santa Barbara Bowl last Sunday night, “There are few venues in the world as beautiful as this one.” And he’s certainly not wrong. Under a practically cloudless sky full of stars, beneath towering trees, and nestled into the hills of Santa Barbara, former Sub Pop labelmates The Head and The Heart and Father John Misty co-hosted a beautiful night at the Bowl that fans are sure to never forget.

The two artists, who favor both an acoustic guitar and good singalong, proved to be the perfect pair of acts to bring the Bowl to life on a Sunday night. Before the headliners took the stage, angelic singer-songwriter Miya Folick gave a stripped-back but emotional performance of tracks from her newest record, Roach. Her songs were confessional and personal in nature, but featured more than a few hints of pop sensibilities. “Nothing to See” – a standout from the evening – combines delicate vocals, dreamy pop beats, and lyrics like, “I know you’ve been talking to girls on the internet / She’s only 19 and I can’t compete with that.” Fans of Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy would find themselves at home in Folick’s work.

Taking turns every show between the closing slot, The Head and the Heart took the stage first to an excitable crowd that had already filled out the sold-out venue. Opening with the upbeat singalong “All We Ever Knew” from 2016’s Signs of Light, the Seattle-based group immediately got the crowd dancing. Lead singer and guitarist Jonathan Russell lit up the stage as guitarist Gervais and his wife, Charity Rose Thielen, the band’s violinist and vocalist, danced alongside him. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, the band tore through more than five records of material and nearly a decade of music they’ve created together.

Highlights from the Head and the Heart set included classic hits like “Ghosts,” the wildly popular “Honeybee,” the hometown ode “Virginia (Wind In The Night)” from their recent record. Fans cheered especially loud at the opening notes of “Down In The Valley,” whose name the band borrowed for their upcoming two-day and personally curated festival taking place in the Napa Valley on September 2nd and 3rd. (The Head and the Heart, Miya Folick, and other artists make up the lineup.) The setlist also featured “True Love Leaves No Traces,” a beautiful Leonard Cohen cover that sonically fit right in alongside their other songs. Towards the end of the set, Gervais’ and Thielen’s young daughter even made an appearance on stage, clad in a pink outfit that matched her mom’s and wearing giant headphones. Gervais brought down the mic low so he could sing crouched next to her, and the moment truly made the night feel like an intimate family affair.

Just a few minutes after the sun had fully set, Father John Misty took the stage and opened his set with the closing track of his most recent and most jazzy record, Chloe & the Next 20th Century, called “The Next 20th Century.” A gigantic curtain draped above the stage paired with swirling lights and fog made for a dramatic and theatrical stage; it was perfectly suited for the elevated performance and especially his opening number as a small orchestra of strings and woodwinds backed the band. Misty – whose real name is Josh Tillman – poked fun at his recent record, saying that, like many of us in the crowd, we “must have also spent quarantine writing fake jazz.” The self-deprecation is familiar to those who’ve been following Tillman for years, and feels a bit half-hearted after watching both Tillman and the audience come alive during memorable tracks like “Goodbye Mr. Blue” and “Chloe.”

Like The Head and the Heart, Father John Misty also took the crowd on a tour across his five records during his outstanding 90-minute set – giving particular attention to 2012’s smash hit and fan favorite, I Love You, Honeybear. Playing 7 tracks from the album proved an inspired decision, even with a few parenthetical and amusing caveats from Tillman (“I wrote this as a precocious and insufferable 34 year old,” he remarked about “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”). Headier songs from his eerily prescient 2018 record Pure Comedy used to take on a darker tone when played live during the Trump administration – particularly “Things That Would’ve Been Helpful To Know Before the Revolution” – but now feel a bit lighter and sardonic. “Pure Comedy” remains hard-hitting and striking in its snapshot of the human race, but Tillman pausing to explain mid-song how it was initially conceived as a rock opera from the perspective of aliens actually makes it all the more enjoyable. 

It is in Josh Tillman’s ease on stage and ability to seamlessly move between the various album eras and identities he’s possessed over the years that make his live show so unique; few artists would be able expertly maneuver the tones of the sweet yet self-effacing “Nancy From Now On” followed by the delicate tale of a writer using her sister’s death to sell books in “Q4” just before jumping into “Mr. Tillman,” a semi-autobiographical song about Tillman having a personal crisis while living at a hotel. Each track feels like a snapshot into one man’s psyche, making every passing moment of the show feel more intimate and magical than the one before it.

Father John Misty and The Head and the Heart proved that co-headlining tours are always a little bit more elevated than the typical show; getting to see full sets from two artists who dabble in the indie-folk genre but take wildly different approaches to their songwriting identities at a beautiful venue like the Santa Barbara Bowl will never not feel special.



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