(Photo Credit - Emma Tillman)
On March 23, 2020, Father John Misty released the second live album in his career, Off-Key in Hamburg. The release was digital and was offered through Misty's BandCamp page. Proceeds from the album have benefited the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. The recording took place at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie on August 8, 2019 with his touring band, and the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt.
The song selection itself is magnificent. It's a smattering of 20 tracks that span Josh Tillman's career as Father John Misty. In it, there's a little something for everyone, as Tillman divides his time pretty evenly among all four of his LP's he's released since 2012. While originally offered via Bandcamp, you can now listen to it via streaming services such as Spotify and Tillman's official YouTube account (see below).
So what's the verdict on Off-Key in Hamburg? It's vastly different than Tillman's previously released live album Father John Misty - Live at Third Man Records. In that performance, you get a stripped down version of Tillman's music, as it's just Tillman and an acoustic guitar. The performances are raw and charged with emotion. On Off-Key in Hamburg, you get Tillman's full band and the accompaniment of the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt. Having seen Tillman live in the past, Off-Key in Hamburg is more representative of what his typical set is like. He always plays the favorites and includes a few diamonds in the rough that you weren't expecting.
While I love Tillman on Father John Misty - Live at Third Man Records, I also feel that Off-Key in Hamburg is more representative of Tillman's sound overall. That is, there is a lot to process in most of Tillman's music, and this is perhaps best captured with a backing band (the inclusion of the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt on Off-Key in Hamburg is just icing on the cake). The backing for Tillman just makes the songs sound more like they were originally intended. What can I say? Tillman is not only a grandiose personality, but he's a grandiose musician as well.
The most important reason I wanted to talk about Off-Key in Hamburg is I feel that in a day with YouTube, where you can view official (and unofficial) versions of most any artist's live music, I feel that the art of the live album might be getting lost in the shuffle. Don't get me wrong, I love being able to stream video of full performances of my favorite artists just as much as the next person. However, I just tend to feel that because of this access, fewer and fewer artists are releasing live albums. I juxtapose this to bands like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers who's careers were practically made on their live music. It's just an interesting evolution of music with the increase of access and technology and access.
Going back to Off-Key in Hamburg, that's what makes me appreciate it so much more. Though to be honest, I'd be a hell of a lot more appreciative if they released a vinyl of the album as well, as they did with Father John Misty - Live at Third Man Records. There's just something about the warmth of listening to live music on vinyl. Now don't get it twisted, this isn't me shaking my fist at the clouds, ruing the invasion of technology into the musical process. I think it may be the mentality from lock down from COVID-19 talking, but I just miss live music and besides live streams (which rule), live albums are the closest thing we have to putting me back to that rainy day in Houston, Texas watching one of my favorite artists perform my favorites like "Pure Comedy" and "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)". With no end to this pandemic in sight, I'll continue to get my fix from live streams, live albums, and YouTube videos of past performances, but best bet I'll be out there when it's safe. Until then, I hope you all stay safe as well.