Show Review: J. Tillman with Pearly Gate Music at The Great American Music Hall, 12/4/09

by Caroline Hernandez on December 5, 2009

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J. Tillman haunting the GAMH

Things started off looking kind of gloomy over at The Great American. It was 8:30pm, the opening act was set to go on at 9:00pm and there were approximately 30 people in the room (I counted). Sitting by myself at one of the tables that lined the floor, I couldn’t help but sulk at the fact that I was basically working on a Friday night. It took all my energy to keep from putting my head down on the table and taking a nap. Even my trusty sidekick, iPhone, couldn’t help ease my growing boredom. I shirked out of my responsibilities of doing any research prior to the show, so I basically had no idea what to expect.

Luckily for me, no show is assigned without just cause, and at 9:00pm I found what I was presented with to be quite titillating. Pearly Gate Music came on stage, and by this time the crowd size was a comfortable 100 more or less. Amidst the sea of instruments already set up on stage, a single man played 45 minutes of the most intense, and raw solo acoustic set I can remember witnessing. In this setting, Pearly Gate Music was comprised of Zach Tillman, brother and bass player for headlining act, J. Tillman. Each song was like a poetic stream of consciousness set to the very minimal strumming of Z. Tillman’s guitar. The intensity of the lyrics of the first three songs were offset by his banter in which he jokingly explained how beautiful and intellectual the audience was in comparison to their Los Angeles counterparts. The audience itself, which continued to grow as the set progressed, were all politely sitting on the main floor gazing on. At another point in Zach’s set, he struck up a conversation that lasted a few minutes with a fellow Pavement enthusiast in the crowd. He followed with a bare bones cover of “Shoot The Singer.”  At the closing of his set, he thanked the crowed for indulging him in, and I quote, “playing some jam solo style,” after which he immediately asked be stricken from the record, embarrassed for thinking out loud.

Within mere minutes of Zach exiting the stage, J.Tillman and company eagerly begin their ethereal journey through music. The thunderous clap of a gong sets the mood, as if an impending rainstorm is about to hit. No sooner does Tillman open his mouth to utter the first verse than I realize this isn’t your average run of the mill folk singer. To say this type of music is country or folk is to make a severe generalization. It’s clear Tillman has an aptitude for crafting songs, each one a thoughtful and emotional offering delivered by his whispery yet robust vocals. They harmoniously intertwined with those of his brother, who sang back up. Combined with the reverb, each song floated through air like fog from the machine, dispersing itself slowly throughout the crowd.

This is not to say the show was slow or boring by any means. Tillman was jovial, poked fun at himself, and gave some insight into the tour billing, J. Tillman of Fleet Foxes and Mr. Mind Eraser 3000. He professed that while he himself did not want to be billed as “of Fleet Foxes,” he went along with it so long as he was also able to include Mr. Mind Eraser 3000. Don’t go looking up Mr. Mind Eraser 3000, as it doesn’t exist.

The set climaxed with a series of songs that included some non-hippie style jamming. Normally, this doesn’t really interest me, but tonight it was a refreshing change of pace to lighten the mood from the start of the show. Each jam was a hair flailing, tambourine knocking rock session. The set concluded with the band exiting, leaving Tillman and just his acoustic guitar to close out the night with 3 willowy “encore” numbers.

I tried to keep track of the set list through the evening but could only identify the first two songs (you suck, lyrics.com). No actual set list was used during the show, but I can guess most of the songs were off of Tillman’s newest release Year in the Kingdom.

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Spinning Platters was on the guest list for this show.

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