LIVE: Chris Farren @ The Lexington, London

By Katherine Allvey

Chris Farren shows are less concerts and more emotional exhibitions. He takes us on a guided tour of his sincerity via gently cynical humour, dynamic animations and a bucketful of heart. Formerly the frontman of Fake Problems, Farren is now a cult sensation and solo indie punk legend, famed for his open sentiments and animated shows. Tonight, he’s having a great time at the Lexington in Islington because London is, after all, his favourite city in the world. He says this after cycling through slides that say the same thing about every other town he’s stopped in. We laugh appreciatively, especially when he describes what he loves about the capital: “The sights! The sounds! The… zoo?”

It’s an intimate show for Farren, considering his previous visits to London in support of Gaslight Anthem included Shepherds’ Bush Empire and Wembley Arena. All two hundred tickets to the languid pink space above the bar have sold out, and he is among his friends. The crowd heckles him with jokes, and he tosses them back like beanbags. There’s warmth in the air, and not just from the crush of bodies in the tiny room. Frankie Impastato, Farren’s drummer and collaborator, was sadly bereaved mid-tour and missed this date. Like a Shakespearean prologue, Farren explains this before his set, and apologises for having to program in drum tracks at the last minute. We don’t mind that, or the overly long and detailed message he has us read for Impastato which he records on his phone. He calls her an ‘LGBTQI+ icon’, and his inclusivity is met with enthusiasm.

His set is understandably focused on his most recent album, ‘Doom Singer’, which he pronounces with a horror roll on ‘Doom’. He opens with ‘Blueish’, then to soft, shy support from the crowd on ‘I don’t remember how to do this…’. It resonates with the insecure and hopeful among us. ‘First Place’ is a lounge number live, but the sixties bounce is balanced by video game sound effect chimes and a romantic sincerity. His guitar solo, signalled by ‘Chris Farren Guitar Solo’ appearing behind him, spreads like silken butter. It’s a summer dream when performed live and for a few minutes, we feel like we’re lying in the grass and watching the night sky rather than in a bourbon bar in the middle of the city.

Farren is far more punk than his studio production suggests. He’s decided at the last minute to include an Antartigo Vespucci song, ‘Don’t Die in Yr Hometown’, in his set and as a result, he briefly needs reminding of the words from his side project track. With just his voice and guitar to power a song, it’s clear that Farren has been more influenced by his friend Brian Fallon than he’d like to admit. His guitar sings like Springteen’s or Billy Bragg’s, and we get a glimpse into a parallel universe where he was not tempted by samples and instead became a solo punk icon. He’s ‘gone off script’ and breaks free of his self-imposed boundaries. He finishes with ‘Bang!’, another Antartigo Vespucci track, in the same style. The chorus, ‘All I wanna do is ride my bike and think about sex with you’, creates waves of singing that ripples through us all. It becomes obvious that songs he presents with only voice and guitar reveal more than he intended to; they’re more open, less rehearsed, and speak of innocence and longing.

While there’s a twist on every track when Farren performs live, ‘Statue Song’ gets the biggest makeover. Originally a long, thoughtful meditation, the worshipful reverence is broken when Farren lights his face from below with his phone and wanders around the venue while singing. When he reaches the merch desk, he grasps a copy of ‘Doom Singer’ on vinyl and holds it aloft. We grin. He’s always hustling in a comic and obvious way, and it’s refreshing to see his honesty about sales. It’s a tiny gesture in the midst of a monumental song that changes and lightens the tone.

Once he returns to the stage, Farren smiles amid the sweat. “Alright, I did it…” His shyness can be glimpsed throughout the night, despite the unapologetic poses and cinematic strength in his songs. ‘Cosmic Leash’ which follows ‘Statue Song’  is a break, a release, a whirlpool to suck us out of one mood into another. His tender voice comforts and sympathises with our loneliness in the chorus, and sparks fall like raindrops on his backdrop. ‘Human Being’ could be the summary of the entire evening, a celebration of existence with candy-coated punk thrash chords. We raise our hands like high schoolers, full of achievement for making it through life this far.

A Chris Farren show is a reward for all of us, one we relish from start to finish. As he tells us twice (and puts on a slide, and on his t-shirts), it was ‘another perfect set’.