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Wet Plate Portraits: Chris Farren at Le Pub

Monday, 02 March 2020 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Gareth Jarvis

People make important breakthroughs every day. Using a process that dates back 150 years, photographer Gareth Jarvis captured this shot of Chris Farren at Newport’s Le Pub midway through his UK tour, answering one of life’s most pressing questions: would Chris Farren have been hot in cowboy times? To repurpose his stage patter: hell yeah, baby.

Chris Farren: born hot in 1986. Chris Farren: born hot in 1886.

The last time Farren rolled into Newport was six years ago. He played the old Le Pub to a grand total of three people. Two of them are here tonight (my mate Tom didn’t come this time) to help make up a 400% increase in bodies, as he wryly observes from the stage. 

Farren’s show in 2020 is very different to what it was in 2014. Back then he was stuck between stations. His indie-rock band, Fake Problems, wasn’t all the way dead yet and Antarctigo Vespucci, his collaboration with punk hero Jeff Rosenstock, was still wet behind the ears. 

Backed by his longtime bandmate Casey Lee, he played an earnest set of semi-acoustic power-pop lit by bare lighting. There was clapping, but probably not enough to register as applause.

(At the end of the night I interviewed Farren outside in miserable November weather and he let slip that within a couple of days he’d release a surprise, all-original Christmas album. I nodded politely and left thinking that was a terrible idea. It wasn’t. ‘Like a Gift From God or Whatever’ is wonderful.)

These days, Farren’s set is a multimedia experience. The songs are louder, and more confident. They are delivered in his own richly cultivated, sardonic, perma-online voice through the medium of a white Strat and a cavalcade of pedals. 

A couple of projectors send Chris Farren-themed artwork (self-painted, naturally) and cue cards (GUITAR SOLO! ANOTHER GUITAR SOLO! and finally ANOTHER PERFECT SET!) spiralling across the wall and ceiling. He briefly presses pause to show us  a countdown graphic whiling away the days until his birthday, and to wish us a happy #ThrowbackThursday. He has found the hallowed ground between rock show and living meme.

It’s all part of Farren’s schtick, and it’s an awful lot of fun. At times the net result is a wall of ironic distance, but even that can’t obfuscate how brilliant his songs are. Since the Fake Problems days Farren has been able to pull off power-pop’s great trick by wrapping bleeding emotions in spangly, melodic armour, and his new material is as good as anything he’s released in the past decade.

Search 4 Me and Domain Lapse, lifted from his recent LP ‘Born Hot’, are highlights, dropping off massive hooks with a side of anxiety.  “You know where I’ll be, trapped inside my head,” Farren sings on the motorik former, before quitting his day job in the sweeping latter: “Thank you, but goodbye, I've been unhappy here too long.”

Farren’s set is a technical marvel (honestly, there are so many pedals) that doesn’t get lost in the minutiae of its construction. When he steps from the stage a little before 11pm, he wanders over to the merch table as he has done countless times at countless venues just like this one. In that moment the projectors, the trickery, and the catchphrases, disappear around a bend. We’re just left with the songs and the man. A man who was born hot, obviously.

Chris Farren Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon March 02 2020 - LIVERPOOL Sound Basement
Tue March 03 2020 - KINGSTON Fighting Cocks

Click here to compare & buy Chris Farren Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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