Christopher Owens: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 27/2/13
Having successfully passed the ‘difficult second album’ test with ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, the break up of Girls last year gave frontman Christopher Owens a chance to tackle another, equally present but less acknowledged cliché; the ‘even more difficult first solo album’.
Often when a band splits up solo offshoots are expected to distance themselves, either in an Oedipal, father killing, never-play-the-old-songs-live-or-mention-the-band kind of way, or else the opposite; pretend the other band members never existed and carry on playing as you did only with more money. Christopher Owens’ post break-up career, and his album ‘Lysandre’ don’t fit neatly into this model, in fact they only fit uncomfortably into most trends in modern music. The album has a sound that is tricky to pin down accurately. Traces of influences can be heard from everything from the Renaissance to the 90s, and though the wide range of instruments (saxophone, harmonica, flute, organ etc) give a paradoxically thin sound on the album, the music transfers well to the stage and gives an unusual live experience.
For one thing, Owens spends the majority of time on stage sat down, also he plays ‘Lysandre’ start to finish, in album order. The atmosphere is calm; no one dances, everyone listens. Surrounded by his equally gangly and immaculately dressed backing band, the seated Owens anchors the mood, and perfectly recreates the feel of the album.
A little too perfectly at times. By following the script of the album, Owens is able to preserve the storyline (which, as reviewed in this magazine, is a little weak), but this comes at the expense of a lot of the music’s energy. Perhaps it is the case that Owens’ solo music will be generally more pared down than what he did with Girls, but when he is playing the same 10 songs in the same order, with the same band and the same 4 covers tacked on the end, at dozens of venues across the world – you have to wonder what makes the concert you see special, and if he isn’t getting just a little bit bored.
Despite this, the good songs are still very good, and the album’s flat production disappears onstage where the space between the instruments can be heard properly. Songs like “A Broken Heart” and “Part Of Me” have that unique quality in song writing which only fits a generic definition: they sound familiar and completely new at the same time. “Lysandre’s Theme”, the musical motif that bridges all the songs on the album (loved and loathed by critics in equal measure), is recreated on stage and helps to stick the band together. Even if at times Owens’ definition of what makes a good song is different from most peoples, his dedication to his music and his ability to pair lyrics with melody show that he is a real, if unorthodox talent.
“What if I’m just lousy up on the stage/And everybody watching is rolling their eyes/Well, you can roll your eyes at whatever you choose to/And really it’s all up to you”. These lyrics, from “Love Is In The Eye Of The Beholder”, seem tailor-made for use by critics looking either to criticise Owens or to applaud him. Like him or not, these lines do say quite a lot about Owens’ attitude to music. Even if his songs can be a bit hit and miss, when he hits he hits well. If he does seem a little tired its worth remembering he could stop any time he likes, even if the set seems a little clockwork it’s far too eccentric to seem mass-produced; whatever ideas Owens may have for his future career they promise to be firmly individual, and at this stage the outlook is promising.