Friday, 1 March 2013

873 CHRISTOPHER OWENS, Bristol Thekla, Thursday 28 February 2013

Below decks on the “Dirty Boat” again; following last week’s trip onto the top deck to see The History Of Apple Pie, this one was a Thursday evening jaunt to see elfin slacker troubadour and former Girls main-man Christopher Owens, striking out on his own following the dissolution of a band that, according to Christopher, “didn’t really exist anyway,” said dissolution occurring barely weeks after Tim, Tracey and I saw them at the Forum last year!

It was the same trio off to this one; Tim picked me up at 7.15 and we headed down, expecting to hear vast swathes from his louche, laid-back debut singer-songwriter solo effort “Lysandre”, and rather hoping we may also get some of the more absorbing, Wheat-like US alt-rock from the Girls back catalogue. You never know… Picked our way through a busy Bristol city centre and circumnavigated a massive tour bus in the Thekla’s car park, before getting downstairs in time to completely miss the support band, who (according to Beef, who we ran into here) apparently only played 20 minutes! A surprise was the very low turnout for this one; rumoured to be sold out, this was barely half full at most, and a crowd of about 100 hardy souls cloistered around the front awaiting Owens’ arrival. It was so quiet, I actually sat on the stage, extreme right, completely unhindered, all evening and throughout Owens’ set!

Christopher led his band on at ¼ to 9; an 8 piece, this, including 2 female backing vocalists, one of which who had no waist whatsoever, and an impressively zoot-suited older flautist/ saxophonist. No wonder they needed such a huge tour bus! They proceeded to play Owens’ “Lysandre” album in order, the blond flick-haired Owens, mainly seated throughout, thereby veering between slow-burn and classic 60’s acoustic singer-songwriter material, all mellow, idiosyncratic and introspective (though never maudlin), and more uptempo, poppier songs which nevertheless still owed a clear debt to the 50’s/ 60s. The upbeat and most Girls-like number, “New York City”, featured some virtuoso sax to swing it along, and the fragile, Big Star-esque ballad “A Broken Heart” was touching, emphasised by Owens’ equally fragile, keening vocals. “Lysandre’s Theme”, a descending, pastoral riff which opened the set on its’ own, was also featured in a number of songs, bringing them together thematically but also giving me the uneasy impression that I was listening to the same song a time after time. This was even the case with the reggae tinged instrumental “Riviera Rock”, during which the girls swayed with an air of detached insouciance.

This was also somewhat of a problem for me tonight; the band were excellent musicians and the songs well crafted and constructed, but it all seemed a little anodyne and passionless, a possible case of image over substance. And after a politely meandering “Everywhere You Know”, they were off – after barely half an hour!

The crowd, clearly more than a little taken aback by the brevity of the performance, eventually cheered for an encore, and Owens and the band returned for a 5 song covers vignette, including Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”, Simon And Garfunkel’s mellow “The Boxer” with its smooth “aye la lie” chorus line, and the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me”, again underlining that Owens is very much in a 60’s headspace right now, as he handed out lilies to the front rows to close out an overall 50 minute performance. No Girls material though; I can understand him wanting a clean break from that band, but in that case a £15 ticket price for the Thelka was a bit steep for half an hour of original material padded out with a few 60’s covers. I liked… no, make that admired, the first half-hour, but thereafter just felt a little short-changed.

And early home too – out of the venue before ¼ to 10 and home at half past!

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