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Review / photos: Gasparilla Music Festival wraps with Father John Misty, fun in the sun at Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Park

It was a total weather turnaround from Saturday.
Father John Misty performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Published Mar. 12, 2018

What a difference a day makes.

Twenty-four hours after overcast skies and a little bit of rain put a slight damper on the Gasparilla Music Festival's opening night, it was back to beach-blanket weather on Sunday, with hula hoops, acro-yoga, close-up magicians and kids running wild on the lawn.

RELATED: Review / photos: The Roots, Spoon rock through the rain at Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa

And instead of the legendary Roots crew throwing down the funk on the main stage, the headliner was brainy, bearded, indie rock heartbreaker Father John Misty.

Sunday at GMF is its own sunny, snoozy beast, so the pairing pretty much worked. The cynical, self-referential troubadour born Josh Tillman may be an acquired taste, but his first Tampa Bay concert felt bigger and more embraceable than it might've at a sold-out smaller club or theater – even if, as he himself noted, the casual festivalgoers in the crowd might be confused by his wry, misanthropic music.

"This set just never seems to end, does it?" he said toward the finale. "I swear to God, I haven't played a single song that is not a hit. I haven't indulged any B-sides or anything."

As always with Tillman, it was tough to tell how serious he was being. His lyrics project an overwhelming self-awareness – never more so than when he played, back to back, The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt. and new song Mr. Tillman.

"I figured I'd lump all my most humiliating songs together in one moment of the show," he said between them.

Oh, he went on like this, deadpanning about bringing down the mood while, in reality, many fans were blissfully absorbed by his classicist epics about relationships and comedy and technology and "our struggle to survive on this godless rock that refuses to die." Total Entertainment Forever may be lyrical clickbait ("Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift…"), but it's a song that got many in the house nodding along.

And Tillman is more fun in person than he might seem. His opening one-two punch of the swoony I Love You, Honeybear and insistent Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings was Father John Misty 101, instantly recognizable to fans and an immediate mood-lifter. Whenever he ditched his guitar, he moved easily, languidly, shimming up to his mic and out onto the main stage thrust. And the swells of his backing band transformed songs that could come across as cleverer-than-thou into sweeping, rolling chunks of '70s rock elegance, a la Elton John or John Lennon.

Father John Misty performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Outside Tillman's philosophical folk stylings, there was a decidedly Southern whiff to Sunday's lineup: The take-no-guff twang of Nikki Lane, the rage-filled righteousness of Todd Snider's whiskey-rock supergroup Hard Working Americans, the crusty riffs of Tampa's Brother Cephus, the freak-folk stylings of St. Pete's Mountain Holler.

Nikki Lane performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Hard Working Americans performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Brother Cephus performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Mountain Holler performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Representing the quasi-mainstream was Philly-bred Mondo Cozmo, whose robust modernization of American rock inspired by British rock thundered across the sunbathers on the lawn. Despite singer Josh Ostrander saying they lost their luggage en route, their songs Future Bends and Thunder pulsed with the feels of Bruce Springsteen; Plastic Swords the loose jangle of the Velvet Underground. Ostrander specifically shouted out Tom Petty on the Free Fallin'-ish Shine. And just before closing hit Automatic, a sweat-soaked Ostrander, fueled by a can of Modelo and another of Dale's Pale Ale, thrashed and yowled through an exclamatory take on the Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony.

Mondo Cozmo performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

L.A. garage-glam duo Kolars brought a sound much bigger than their two-piece lineup, thanks largely to drummer Lauren Brown walloping her drum kit while standing — er, tap-dancing out extra percussion on a mini drum/stage below her feet. It was like Stomp as interpreted by the Raveonettes.

Kolars performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, 2018 at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

But the strangest moment of the night came, once again, from Father John Misty.

Midway through his set, Tillman ditched his ongoing self-referential commentary to bring up his upbringing in what he described as a "cult" called the Tree of Life. He said hadn't seen into anyone from those years in decades – until Sunday in Tampa.

"We both had bands, we both learned how to speak in tongues," he said, addressing the other guy. "I still remember my prayer language, too. It was a hell of a ride, and amazing to see you again."

That's GMF for you, always bringing people together. A lot can change in 24 hours. But after seven years, that much is still the same.

— Jay Cridlin

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