St Giles-in-the-Fields, London | December 10th
Often when artists play a record in full at an intimate live show there’s an aspect of self-indulgence to the affair. It’s a common act for established artists, celebrating 10th anniversaries of breakthrough LPs or the like.
Yet when the act in question is still in their infancy, and has chosen St. Giles-in-the-Fields church to showcase an LP not out till January, it’s less a product of self-indulgence and more the remarkable result of anxiousness, excitement and unmatchable creativity. This was Christopher Owens’s first UK show as a solo artist, and if his full rendition of the forthcoming Lysandre was anything to go by, it may be one of the most intriguing and honest releases of 2013.
There was something incredibly cinematic about this show. The church clock struck eight and the doors creaked open for everyone to take their pews, and after a little wait the side door flung open for the parade of musicians to take their place. Owens was sandwiched in the middle, his fingers running through his hair and dressed in a cheap-looking suit. This is a man who overcame addiction and a monumentally difficult upbringing to find success with his now disbanded Girls. His first solo record is said to be based on a girl he met when his band were in Paris. The show opens with Lysandre’s Theme, around 40 seconds in length and embedded in each track of the LP in some way. Songs like Everywhere You Knew, Here We Go and Love is in the Ear of the Listener are written with a blissful frankness and a raw style of narrative, which on the surface appears sunlit but masks a true modern tortured soul. One offering in particular called A Broken Heart displays a breathtaking emptiness. With its spiralling guitar line supported by a flute and the lyrics “and I wish it hadn’t happened – you fell in love with a girl”, there is scarcely a more honest chapter of Owens’s story. As he performs it his eyes are scrunched shut, leaning into his microphone. The stage was decorated with only a vase of flowers, and the eerie grandeur of the church paralleled the vacuity addressed within the songs. It’s tough to describe Owens’s performance beyond pure absorption, as he finally broke away from the LP into a fitting cover of Wild World by Cat Stevens.
The show closed with a version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, and as the band continued to play, the singer bunched together his decorative flowers and handed them to a fan before striding out of the venue with his head, tentatively, held rather high. Christopher Owens is a surefire survivor, and Lysandre heralds another chapter in the life of a truly engrossing talent.
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Words: Duncan Harrison