Tyler Farr Bares Country's Rough Edges at Irving Plaza: Live Review

Tyler Farr

Tyler Farr named his latest album Suffer In Peace, but don't let that fool you -- at his release show in New York City last night, there was little serenity to be found. Instead, Farr served up plenty of pugnacious guitar riffs and chest-puffing theatrics. For several years now, country has secretly been harboring some of the hardest rock in pop's mainstream -- listen to Eric Church, or better yet, Brantley Gilbert -- and this is where Farr rests his hat.

Farr played a new track, "Raised To Pray," early during his show, using one line -- "from the outside looking in we might appear a little rough around the edges" -- as a sort of mission statement. The singer took the stage with a four-piece band that looked more ZZ Top than Nashville, and Farr's voice sat halfway between a rasp and a growl, with touches of softness dripping around the edges. He's compact and barrel-chested, built for projection, easily able to send words caroming around the back corners of Irving Plaza.

As he does on his album, Farr spent a large part of his set declaring his fidelity to his roots (he's a Missouri boy). He stressed this throughout the night: he's "c-o-u-n-t-r-y" to the core and a firm supporter of America's military efforts. But every statement was tempered by a self-deprecating comment ("did you like that, or should we take it off the album?"), a joke ("I'm the Eeyore of country music"), or an oft-repeated "thank you."

Contrast this with Farr's truculent sound, which verged on nu-metal aggression during several of the show's most thrilling moments. "Withdrawals" was one of these -- the song revolves around cliché imagery, linking love and drugs, but Farr kicks it to life with stuttering shards of guitar and a full-throated yowl. In case anyone thought this tune was an outlier, Farr proved his commitment to post-grunge rock during his encore, which opened with covers of the Foo Fighters' "There Goes My Hero" and "Best Of You."

But Farr was involved in a complicated dance, pushing the volume, showing those rough edges, and then polishing them up for all to see. He dutifully, cornily flirted with the ladies in the crowd. He also sang his share of love songs, which proved his allegiance to the type of girl that you can find praised all over country radio.

Those girls should treat this boy nice, because if you scrape away the guitar heroics and "I'm so country" statements -- the latter especially, since you can find them on every album from a male country singer these days -- what you have left is a bruised Teddy Bear. When Farr played "Hello Goodbye" with only acoustic accompaniment, he nearly buried the arrangement beneath an exhilarating avalanche of vocal power, simultaneously reveling in post-break-up freedom and missing a relationship's comforts. Naturally, he also ripped into "Redneck Crazy," his first big hit, a vivid island of wounded-pride and raw hurt in a sea of country singles that, as Farr pointed out, portray the world as "all flowers and sunshine."

Anatomy Of A Hit: Tyler Farr's 'Redneck Crazy'

What followed "Redneck Crazy" was somewhat baffling: everyone left the stage except for the drummer, who play a lengthy drum solo, triggering some dialogue samples – a comically high voice yelped "don't touch my drumstick!" -- on a pad to his left as he did so. Then the band returned and played some Foo Fighters.

They would have been better served by playing the title track to Farr's new album, "Suffer In Peace," a glaring omission in the night's set-list. Here the singer throws another off-speed pitch, a weary ache from someone who tends to spit fire. Farr outlines his plan to seek comfort in solitude, suggesting a devastated sequel to "Redneck Crazy" -- it turns out that country harbors plenty of soft rock as well.