Last month, Christopher Owens (formerly the lead singer and chief songwriter of Girls) brought his solo act to an intimate Paradise Rock Club in Boston, Massachusetts.
The concert was a seated affair with fold up chairs filling the space normally occupied by sweaty head bangers. Paradise fits just under 1,000 concertgoers but there couldn’t have been more than 400 people in the club for Owens. Used to seeing the club at full capacity and irked by the strange sightlines the chairs created, I was initially skeptical of the club’s transformation. Owens would soon quell my doubts.
Similarly intriguing was the abnormally high number of grey-haired attendees for a venue that sits on Boston University ground in the student ghetto of Allston. Girls had a classic rock aesthetic that infused tropes of surf-pop, sludge, psychedelia, prog, and folk into their brand of California indie but Owen’s solo act sounds straight out of the past as if it were recorded in a Greenwich Village studio in the heyday of lyrical singer-songwriters. Perhaps it was fitting that Owens’ grey-haired utility man was the MVP of the night, delivering impassioned saxophone, harmonica, flute, and more.
Despite the low turnout, the show was a surprising delight. Owens played a short and delicate first set of solo songs before returning for an encore of classic covers. The audience let Owens do his thing without clamoring to him to play “Vomit” or “Lust For Life” just one last time. No doubt, I would have loved to hear some kickass Girls songs but I was pleased the audience respected Owens enough to let him share his new direction.
Owen’s new material is built around the short “Lysandre’s Theme” that appears in all of his news tracks. By the end of the night, Owens had created a familiar fondness for the theme. I left the show nostalgically humming the theme as if it were an art-school “Seven Nation Army.”
While songs such as the “Rivera Rock” and “New York City” stand out on the album, there wasn’t one track that stood above the others when played live. Owens cared more about creating an experience than milking the hot new single. With the seated crowd listening attentively to Owens fingerpicking and introspective lyrics, he successfully transformed Paradise into a coffee shop environment. It felt natural for Owens to end the night with covers of Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, and Bob Dylan; a shootout to the pantheon of singer-songwriters that helped him craft Lysandre.