Monday, November 30, 2009

Concert Review: J Tillman at Mohawk

photo by Mary Rehak

Friday night was yet another perfect night in Austin, Texas. The weather was cool, but not cold. With almost a full moon to light up the night sky and a few visible stars, the setting for a J. Tillman concert outdoors couldn’t have been any better if it were scripted in a Hollywood indie film. The drummer from Fleet Foxes was at the mic singing while playing guitar in front of a bunch of bearded hipsters wearing flannels and indie couples sitting down on the cold pavement floor of Mohawk.

In all my years of coming to see shows at Mohawk, I have never seen a show where most of the audience was sitting down in front of the outdoor stage. It was a nice change and appropriate for the type of live show Tillman and his backing band perform.  It isn’t like anyone is going to be starting a pit or crowd surfing at this show. My only qualm with sitting on the pavement to watch the show was getting stuck in front of the only drunk idiot trio of wannabe hipsters who couldn’t shut up there for a while. Still, not even they could have ruined a great performance by Tillman.

photo by Mary Rehak

That being said, even I was taken by surprise at how much I enjoyed Tillman’s set. He played a good mix of his singer song-writer, coffee house folk I came to expect along with some pretty angsty sounding, ambient indie rock. You should have seen Tillman’s wild Rick Rubin-esque beard blowing in the wind and waving around as he aggressively strummed his electric guitar. Simply put, Tillman and company put a lot of the young post rockers I’ve seen to shame. Again, I thought he was all coffee shop and had no idea he rocked like that.

The other surprise of the night was how funny Tillman could be. It wasn’t like stand up funny, but more like nerdy music guy funny. He shared his story about his Waterloo Records music purchase with the crowd, as he played an in store earlier in the day there. Apparently, Waterloo’s owner gives performers a discount on purchases while there at Waterloo. According to Tillman, the owner wanted to see what he had purchased with his discount. Tillman assumed it was probably in hopes of seeing what great album or obscure vinyl he may have picked out, but Tillman only had a Battlestar Galactica DVD in hand. He stopped the story there, but that’s all that needed to be said really.

Tillman also made reference to Robbie Williams of all people, when thanking the audience for cheering a minute before a song was over. He wasn’t being snarky, but rather trying to communicate how awesome he felt to have people cheering while he was playing music and singing the way people do when they see someone like Robbie Williams. It just took us all by surprise to hear the name “Robbie Williams” come out of this awesomely bearded rock star’s mouth. Did I mention his beard was awesome?

photo by Mary Rehak

Overall, the best part of the show was the music. Having performed songs mostly from his latest album, Year in the Kingdom, Tillman reminded me how much more I like his music in comparison to Fleet Foxes. If I wasn’t so close to the stage to clearly see and hear Tillman, I would have sworn I was listening to the CD itself. He was that spot on vocally Friday night, only with a much fuller sound given he had his whole band backing him. Too bad no one was recording this for a live video. This would have been the show to do it. The sound…the setting…everything was perfect.

Set List from Friday Night's concert:

All You See
When I Light Your Darkened Door
No Occasion
Vacilando Territory
Howling Light
Though I Have Wronged You
Barter Blues
Master's House
There Is No Good In Me
New Imperial Grand Blues

(Review written and published on

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