Christopher Owens approached the stage in a way appropriate to the amount of people in The EARL – casually. Sixty or so fans gathered around the stage, where on a further elevated platform the gaunt songwriter took a seat and eased into Girls deep cut, “Solitude,” the first of many he’d perform in a show heavy with material from his former band.
I was surprised. Owens seemed so set on the solo artist thing during the first part of his 2013 tour. The official Lysandre leg saw him playing the entire album straight through then coming back out to perform some ‘60s covers. Last night he played Girls material almost exclusively.
“Substance” was his third song, and the first that wasn’t relegated to a B-side or unreleased. The song initiated a string of more recognizable material that continued with crowd-pleaser “Laura.”
Met with tremendous applause (for 60 people) after “Laura,” Owens mumbled a simple “thank you,” the only way he interacted with the audience for a solid two-thirds of the night. Every 3-4 songs he’d gaze up, hair covering his eyes and mumble it again. Acting as sublimely melancholy as his best songs, he made small, practically terrified movements. Following “Hellhole Ratrace” though he went on a bit of a tangent when a fan thanked him for playing.
“Thanks – um, you’re welcome.”
He opened up eventually though and frankly I’d be pleased regardless, his solo arrangements rendering even straightforward rockers like “Honey Bunny” and “Lust for Life” delicate and appropriate for the sparse, attentive audience. Father, Son, Holy Ghost cut “Saying I Love You” and the title track of Girls’ sole EP, Broken Dreams Club actually thrived in this environment, the latter featuring an emotive harmonica solo.
Yeah, he was doing the whole folk troubadour thing, but it worked. When he emerged to encore with a plaintive “Jamie Marie,” he tucked his lit cigarette into the headstock of his guitar and donned the neck-holder again. I was struck by the feeling that Owens, a musician obviously indebted to the ‘60s and insistent that he be viewed as a songwriter, was exactly where he wanted to be right now. Smoke billowed out as he substituted the song’s bittersweet studio climax with another dramatic harmonica solo and proceeded to cover Nat King Cole’s “Smile.” Then, removing the cigarette, he thanked the audience and walked off…casually.