Chris McFarland – Rochester – The Bug Jar, NY – 2004-06-15

Chris McFarland
Where: Rochester – The Bug Jar, NY.

When: 2004-06-15

Nothing gets me more upset than going to see a musician or band live that I know is tremendous on stage and having few or no people there. Of course, being a fan of indie rock, it’s not that unusual to go to see a band and be one of the only ones there. Then again, there’s always the bar’s regulars, the old men who make it seem like the bands at these places are there to inconvenience them, but who with a few drinks in them can be counted on to come to the front of the floor and scream out a call for “Freebird.”

The Bug Jar is a fun place to hang out, thanks to an eclectic crowd, fabulously hot bartenders, and inexpensive beer. There’s also a full apartment on the ceiling of the section of the bar where the band plays, which always seems to reveal something new even though I’ve been there a million times. But the bar doesn’t publicize its acts well, and with only two bands on the bill and no local openers, I figured this particular show wouldn’t draw many. It was still a shame to watch one of my favorite singer/songwriters perform with only about six other people in the relatively large space.

Still, that didn’t stop Austin, Texas’ Chris McFarland from blasting through an impressive set. Drawing from his last two albums, the musician showed why his brand of bitter folk and rock is even more impressive in a live and powerful setting. This time backed by his ipod, playing the backing rhythm and guitar he plays himself on his solo albums, the songs had a more full sound, and each was pulled off flawlessly.

McFarland plays acoustic guitar at his shows, switching between six- and 12-stringed instruments quickly and playing them with impressive talent. He belts out his lyrics with power, conveying the emotion that his personal lyrics carry even louder with his eyes closed. And even his slower songs – mixed in nicely so as not to break up the set too much – were wonderful live, including a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” that can be found on his most recent release, Given.

Still, there weren’t many people there, and that might have something to do with the odd pairing of singer/songwriter McFarland and bar-rockers Atomic Forces. I only caught about half the band’s set, and I wasn’t impressed by the songs themselves. A bunch of older looking guys with long hair and odd clothing playing long, jammy bar-rock songs isn’t my thing, but I do have to admit the guitarist was impressive.

The best thing I can say about Atomic Forces is the guys were into McFarland’s set, and it’s important for touring bands to support each other, even if they’re not touring together. McFarland was who I went to see, and he didn’t disappoint. Even with a small crowd, when it’s hard to get into the show, he proved he’s a consummate performer. I highly recommend checking him out when he passes through small joints this summer.