When former Girls frontman Christopher Owens took the stage at Le Poisson Rouge, the crowd took on an unassuming, welcoming hush. The singer, hunched and mantis-like, climbed the stairs to the small stage in darkness, unannounced, and with his full band launched into “Here We Go,” the only track previously heard from his yet-to-be released Lysandre.
The song, which brings to mind Girls’ “Forgiveness,” sings to those with broken hearts and open ears, a weird plea that acted as a string throughout Owens’ refreshingly self-aware and self-conscious set. It’s also worth mentioning – or, really, must be mentioned – that the song’s final heightened notes, played through flute, act as a motif throughout all of the songs presented here, and serve to help create a strange concept album that focuses on classic rock ideas: love, heartbreak, and uncertainty.
While the songs’ merits cannot be downplayed – these are great, well-written rock songs and ballads – Owens’ persona needs to be recognized. In an age of irony and posturing, Owens is overly critical of all of his musical abilities. Midway through the set, he questions whether or not he is a bad songwriter, or wonders if the audience is rolling its collective eyes at him, for chrissakes. He has no illusions about his own talents and, maybe, is even unaware of them. This is a songwriter who takes cues from Donovan and the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Stevens, all of whom he covered in his encore. These are not obscure references to make, but are awfully rare in today’s landscape of bands seemingly obsessed with painting themselves as successors of the unknown, eschewing any sort of obvious influences, even the ones they’re all but copying.
And so, shortly, that was that. Owens played mostly sitting in his chair, swimming in his professorial, pleated suit, pleading for the attention of an audience that was all too willing to give it. The album’s songs, in total, lasted only about half an hour, followed by maybe twenty minutes of covers. All of it was good. The new band he has assembled, thankfully, is just as good as (and, for the most part, the same as) the guys who backed him in Girls. There was no sense of anyone wanting it to end, but, still, Owens ran from the stage during the instrumental outro of the last song of the encore, returning to friends in the crowd shortly after to ask, I’m sure, if everything sounded OK.
Lysandre is out 1/15/13 in the US, unfortunately. But it will be worth the wait.