Live Review: Christopher Owens at the Irenic, March 21, 2013

Christopher Owens
Photo by Chris Maroulakos

Christopher Owens, the former frontman of Girls, came to San Diego for the first time as a solo act last Thursday at the Irenic. Touring on his 2013 release, Lysandre, Owens gave his younger fanbase and the older, curious onlookers something quite different from the fun, weepy indie rock of Girls that many had come to love.

Melted Toys kicked off the show with some youthful, grungy indie rock. While the heavily filtered vocals and fuzzed power chords were nothing groundbreaking, they catered well to the largely under-21 crowd. And despite their unoriginal sound, Melted Toys showed a lot of potential with some catchy guitar hooks and a cohesive live performance.

Christopher Owens’ performance began with a high wind instrument playing the slow, peaceful, almost medieval-sounding notes that can be heard at the opening of Lysandre. Owens, sitting and backed by a six-piece band, played only a nylon-string acoustic. His vocals were clear and dominated each song — undoubtedly the most notable change from his Girls material.

The backing band was well-orchestrated and filled with sufficiently talented musicians, but they were underutilized, forced instead to become a medium for Owens’ deeply personal lyrics. But when Owens sang verses like, “Kissin’ and a-huggin’ is the air that I breathe / I’ll always make time for love,” it seemed like the backing music should’ve had a more prominent role in the songs. This was the fatal flaw of the set and of Lysandre; in an apparent cry for a more mature audience, Owens has placed a huge amount of emphasis on dialing down his songwriting into quiet storytelling mode.

While his lyrics in the fuller-bodied Girls weren’t particularly different — very accessible to teenagers, perhaps by being a bit melodramatic — they at least took a backseat in that band, which allowed the songs to remain energetic and upbeat. In Owens’ solo project, his singing has taken the leading role, and his writing ability leaves something to be desired, especially for the more mature crowd that his new, softer sound is courting.

Breaking off from such a quickly successful band is a brave endeavor: even more so when changing one’s sound so dramatically in the process. Owens took a big risk with Lysandre, but on Thursday that risk left his younger fans bored and the mature listeners with little to relate to. Hopefully Owens will realize his unique talent and return to making messy, sentimental rock that’s easier to digest and enjoy.

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