J Tillman, Bush Hall, London

Much more than a fleeting talent
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The Independent Culture

The Seattle-based J (Joshua) Tillman is better known as one-fifth of the much-lauded Fleet Foxes, they of global critical acclaim and hairy faces. In fact, before Tillman became the band's drummer last year, he had been a successful touring artist in his own right for many years, and is currently enjoying the release of his sixth studio album, Vacilando Territory Blues.

That he has toured extensively with a host of artists from his native Pacific North-west is immediately obvious from his confidence on stage. Such is the Foxes' standing that the whoops which greet his opening moody contemplations seem to be genuinely affectionate.

It is clear that when Tillman joined the band, he was not just bringing vocal talent into the equation. His songwriting – rich with melancholy and blending folk, blues and rock (with a heavy nod to Nick Drake and Neil Young) – is clearly impressive, too. The songs are presented today without the all-frills production and sea of choral music that the Foxes have made their hallmark, and are the better for it.

The night proper began with "No Occasion" ("I looked down on the infinite and saw no occasion for regret or pride or fear"), "When I Light Your Darkened Door" ("There are roses in your hair, and a lily on your breast, and a longing in your heart, will you be ashamed?") and "Firstborn", in which hastily slapped guitar strings are laid over warm lyrics which evoke the warmth and wisdom of parental guidance. Tillman's sad, aching voice sits over the occasional instrumental. Many of the songs have Biblical references. When banter occurs, it is likeable and witty, with the musician proving himself to be funny, better when responding to the crowd's shouts than when sinking into the self-conscious pretence that he has only a vague notion of where he was.

The evening built to its climax with "An Occurrence at the River Jordan", a reprise of the earlier "All You See" (which had begun the evening with a barely audible guitar) and "New Imperial Grand Blues", more upbeat for the addition of pulsating piano chords and some deft ululating guitar solos.

In the end, there was a bit too much chin-stroking tonight, but with members this good, it is no wonder that Fleet Foxes have garnered the amount of hype they have in recent times. Vacilando, by the way, is a Spanish word, meaning "a wanderer for whom the experience of moving around is more important than the reaching of a destination". Long may Tillman's travels continue.

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