Father John Misty might’ve done a stint as folk-rock’s main character a few years back, but lately, he’s avoided making too many headlines — which seems to be by choice. Gone are the days of his provocative interviews and inscrutable online gags. He’s been keeping it focused on the music, man. Even so, it came as a surprise when his latest album, this spring’s “Chloë and the Next 20th Century,” broke from his usual autobiographical tendencies to feature more short-story-esque songs. He’s still in there somewhere — a few straightforward-ish love songs, some musings on the nature of societal progress — but it’s a more fragmented, abstract affair than usual. And on top of that, it all but abandons his usual folk sounds to make way for squawking horns and grand orchestral flourishes. It threatens to become great dinner party music.
Friday night, he put that sound to the test with a nearly two-hour set at Leader Bank Pavilion. It featured only a modest selection of the new songs, but nevertheless, much of the show benefited from the small brass section, standing bass, and multi-instrumentalists on hand to round out a bigger-band sound. Opening with “I Love You Honeybear,” the title track of his swooning-despite-existential-despair 2015 album, Misty set the tone for an evening that centered the crowd-pleasers. After warming up the crowd with a few more old favorites, the warbling horn intro of “Chloë” signaled a dive into the new record, which folded into the set with surprising ease. Soft-shoeing around the stage, he made his way through “Q4″ and “Funny Girl” smoothly enough, and paused to dedicate recent single “Goodbye Mr. Blue” — a song about the loss of a cat and a relationship — to an audience member’s late pet goat.
The rest of the set shifted back to more standard fare, highlighting standouts from across five albums in 10 years. His selections weren’t too surprising — years of touring have given him ample time to hone favorites from earlier records — but lively arrangements and in-the-moment intensity reinvigorated the familiar numbers. “Pure Comedy” took on twisted new dimensions with every too-suave dance step; a howling rendition of “The Ideal Husband” sent Misty rampaging around the stage and repeatedly crashing to his knees to close out the set. Returning moments later with the requisite Mistyism (“Thank you for participating in the fraudulent theater of show business”), he delivered a three-song encore: new track “Buddy’s Rendezvous,” “Fear Fun” rambler “I’m Writing a Novel,” and a reworked, raucous version of “Date Night.” It was a fitting finale for a night that flexed an impressive range and demonstrated that even at his most restrained, Misty’s still entertaining to watch.
FATHER JOHN MISTY
At Leader Bank Pavilion, Friday