When Christopher Owens took the stage last night at The Lodge in his adopted hometown of San Francisco, it was clear that this was going to be a serious show. For his first performance since leaving Girls, he was dressed in a black suit with a striped green and purple tie and took a seat center stage next to a large bouquet of white lilies. The majestic venue felt intimate despite being sold out, with rows of golden chairs facing the stage, which was dramatically framed by red velvet drapes. It was hard to believe that this was the same man who once performed in a denim skirt.
The show was simply a debut presentation of Lysandre, his solo album due out 1/15 via Fat Possum, straight through. Owens dove in with “Lysandre’s Theme/Here We Go.” These first two songs are a good reflection of the polished blend of pop and folk on the rest of the album. Although we got a glimpse of this side of Owens in some of Girls’ softer moments, his new work lacks the band’s early grit.
During his performance, Owens love for beautiful pop songs was evident. His gentle, earnest crooning is the album’s backbone, enhanced by the addition of sweet backup vocals, saxophone, flute, harmonica, bass, guitar, keyboard and drums. It’s evident that with this album he’s yet again drawn from the past for inspiration. A highlight of the show, and speaking to the album’s influences, was the encore in which Owens performed covers of “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, “Lalena by Donovan,” “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Let It Be Me” most popularly by the Everly Brothers, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan.
On Lysandre, Owens stays true to his signature heartfelt and sometimes cliche lyricism, but this album is more conceptual and cohesive than his others. It takes the listener on a chronological journey through his emotions, starting in 2008 when he went on tour, fell in love with a girl named Lysandre, and eventually broke up with her. “Lysandre’s Theme” is indeed a theme, reoccurring again and again throughout the album, giving it a sense of cohesion.
But Owens wasn’t lying when he said in his statement that Lysandre is “much more” than an album about a love affair. Despite being a departure from his work with Girls, it interestingly also provides a glimpse into his feelings of being on tour with the band and grappling with stardom. In Love is in the Ear of the Listener, he self-consciously wonders: “What if I’m just a bad song writer and everything I’ve said has been said before?”
In a New York Magazine interview during the release week of Father, Son, Holy Ghost in 2011, Owens said:
“This is an attempt at classic songwriting. And I know it’s going to take some time. I may be in my forties until I can do it. The goal is to write songs like “Love Me Tender.” It’s a song that will live forever. I don’t think anybody’s first songs are those songs, but I think, for me, there is conscious effort made toward making something that the whole world can understand.”
With Lysandre, Owens has gotten closer to his goal, and while the San Francisco crowd was subdued in their seats, they gave him a standing ovation at the end of the show. Owens is a songwriter first and foremost, and he has shown, that despite a different sound that’s still his greatest talent.
01 “Lysandre’s Theme”
02 ”Here We Go”
03 ”New York City”
04 ”A Broken Heart”
05 ”Here We Go Again”
06 “Riviera Rock”
07 ”Love Is in the Ear of the Listener”
09 ”Everywhere You Knew”
10 ”Closing Theme”
12 ”Part of Me (Lysandre’s Theme)”
13 “Wild World” by Cat Stevens
14 ”Lalena” by Donovan
15 “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel
16 ”Let It Be Me” by the Everly Brothers
17 “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan
Photos by Wilson Lee.