As half of the duo at the core of indie rock band Girls, Christopher Owens found himself at the center of one of the most hyped acts of the early years of this decade – a band that you either loved for their patchwork pastiche of influences ranging from the 60s pop of the Beach Boys to the post-punk swagger of The Replacements, or rolled your eyes at because of the sheer amount of praise the music press seemed determined to lay on them at every turn. After two albums and an EP, just as the band seemed about to truly break out, Owens announced that he was leaving the group to go solo.
Soon after, he released Lysandre, an orchestrated acoustic album that seemed to mark a significant shift in musical direction. He cleaned himself up from a heavy opiate addiction, and last September released his second solo effort, A New Testament, which marked yet another sonic shift, this time towards a more country-tinged sound. Not to be outdone (by himself) Owens startled fans again eight months later when he put out his third album Chrissybaby Forever, which sounded like a return to form, with the indie pop that had made Girls famous front-and-center.
Owens’ 23-song set at the Rock and Roll Hotel last Friday night was made up of about an equal mix of tracks from the new album and tracks from the first two Girls releases, with songs from Lysandre and A New Testament nowhere to be found. Opening the show with “Heartbreaker” and “Alright” from 2010’s Broken Dreams Club may have been a calculated move to draw in an audience that might not have had the opportunity to fully familiarize themselves with the new release yet. While the excitement at hearing tracks like “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” and “Ghost Mouth” was nearly tangible, the crowd seemed quite willing to embrace the new songs as well.
Owens’ songs still have a personal, confessional feel to them, but there is a positivity that comes through on the new ones that reflects the change in outlook he’s had over the last few years. Some, like “What About Love” are blatant, a message to the listener (and to himself) that when things get bad you can get through them by remembering the good things in life. But even tracks like “Another Loser Fuck Up” seemed designed to shed rather than embrace the label and the sentiment behind it. Closing with an encore of the last two songs on the album, “Come On and Kiss Me” and “To Take Care of Myself Again,” it was clear that Owens has found a new lease on his creative life.
Local singer-songwriter Tomás Pagán Motta opened the show, playing songs from his recently released self-titled album in advance of an upcoming tour. His moody, Americana-influenced songs, centered on his acoustic guitar and atmospheric vocals, despite being significantly different from Owens’ music, worked well to set the mood for the evening, and though the arrangements were significantly different from the album (on the album, he’s backed primarily by a string section, while live for this show he was joined by a bassist and a drummer) they worked well to bring the songs to life.
All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.