Christopher Owens Charms Fans at Intimate Gig

Just minutes before Christopher Owens and Liam Hayes’s Saturday night show at World Cafe Live was slated to begin, the venue was nearly empty.  Some older fans lounged by the bar while small, distinct groups of teenagers chit-chatted in the pit. Christopher Owens’s pianist sat in head-to-toe denim at a long, wooden table by the stairwell, taking a moment to relax before the show.  He had an intimidating aura about him, as if he was special in some way, but fans walked by without realizing that in an hour, they would be cheering for him on stage.

Two albums into his solo career, Christopher Owens is moving far away from the sound of Girls, the indie pop band that he fronted until their 2012 split.  Though Owens has begun to distinguish himself from Girls in the greater music scene, most of his fans still know him from catchy pop songs like “Lust for Life” and “Laura.”  On the tour for his new sophomore album A New Testament, Owens is taking to his Texan roots by experimenting with Southern influences.  The difference in his music makes sense: Owens has changed since his days as the frontman of Girls.  For one thing, he has recovered from addiction and stopped using drugs, which he called “terrifying” in an interview with Fader.

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Liam Hayes performs at World Cafe Live

Before Owens’ set, Liam Hayes, a veteran musician from Chicago, is first to take the stage.  He looked like an American George Harrison impersonator, wearing pin-stripe slacks, a tweed blazer, and circular sunglasses (Yes sunglasses at an 8 P.M, indoor show).  Hayes played his first two songs acoustically, before Christopher Owens’s drummer Derek James joined him on stage. Though James’s percussion made the opening act more interesting, Hayes did not seem to impress the crowd of avid Girls fans.  The chord progressions in his music are very predictable, and Hayes’s ambivalence made it even more difficult to get excited about his set.  Christopher Owens’s choice to tour with Liam Hayes makes sense; his music is similar to Owens’s recent country sound.

As Christopher Owens’s set drew near, many audience members got up from their seats and joined the pit.  There still was not much of a crowd, but the present fans were dedicated. One man in a Kurt Vile t-shirt chatted casually about how his wife, a big Christopher Owens fan, could not come to the show as she’s several months pregnant, and made him promise to take pictures for her (he later got a guitar pick and a set list for her after the show).  Another fan gushed excitedly to her boyfriend about how she missed a Girls concert a few years ago and had regretted it ever since but would finally make up for it tonight.

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Christopher Owens performs at World Cafe Live

Owens’s set opened with “My Ma,” the first song on Girls’s second and final album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost.  Though Owens performed his solo songs well, the crowd responded much more enthusiastically to songs that he released on Girls records.  When he played, for example, “Vomit,” tears were shed.

While Liam Hayes played a portion of his set alone, Christopher Owens’s entire set featured a six-piece back-up band.  The back-up band’s two gospel singers were a wonderful addition to Owens’s music as their harmonies were always perfectly executed, adding a welcomed twist to the performance.  When one back-up singer belted out a lengthy high note, the entire front row applauded and cheered her on.  She then hugged her fellow back-up singer and blew kisses at the crowd, making the performance feel even more intimate.

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Though Christopher Owens is clearly at a new, more folk-influenced stage in his career, he still can switch back and forth between his newer music and his older indie-pop tunes.  In fact, for many of the songs from his newest album A New Testament, Owens would switch his guitar to a brick-red Rickenbacker with a twangy sound.  When playing songs that he wrote while recording with Girls, he would use a more standard, wooden Rickenbacker.

After a set filled predominantly with newer material, the band came back on stage for a three-song encore.  Owens ended the show with an extended version of “Hellhole Ratrace,” a stand-out classic from Girls’s debut album.

If you show up at a Christopher Owens gig expecting to hear a set filled with Girls’s greatest hits, don’t hold your breath.  Owens is clearly just himself, and his newfound energy and music will certainly make your experience a great one.

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What do you think of Christopher Owens’s new sound?  Have you gotten your copy of A New Testament?  Tell us in the comments after the jump!

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