Deaf Institute, Manchester
Manchester’s Deaf Institute’s wallpaper must have known Christopher Owens was coming. Once his full band had taken their places on a stage adorned with flowers, they looked right at home, cosily grouped and surrounded wall to wall by sparrows and leaves. Of course the apposite wallpaper was a coincidence. Yet I’m sure it was no coincidence that the performance had all the charm of a family photo circa 1969 - and I mean that in a good way. Owens’ debut solo album (now detached from Girls) is Lysandre, and he treated his audience to a full performance of this record. The album itself is somewhat quaint. It’s strengths, and Owens’ as a musician, are in the juxtaposition of sorrow and longing with breezy, melodious songwriting and instrumentation. The entire performance exuded these fantastic ‘twisted-twee’ stylings.
The quality of Lysandre, as an album, blossoms through the medium of performance. Moments on the record that might sound a tad dated or flippant, work perfectly on the stage - balancing the softer moments of ‘A Broken Heart’ with the character and panache of tracks like ‘Riviera Rock’. In fact, if you revisit this website’s review of Lysandre on its release a couple of months ago, you will see that I wasn’t entirely convinced by ‘Riviera Rock’ - suggesting it sounded like “a live band simply improvising the same tune in as many different styles as they can think of”. Well on record I think I’d still stand by that, but it doesn’t matter, because that is exactly the point. Played live, ‘Riviera Rock’ plays out my imagined criticism - and it’s fantastic! The power of the album is within its effortless celebration of musical styles and fearless instrumentation. Owens’ lyrics then perfectly compliment this with frank and honest exchanges and encounters. The crowd swayed and bounced adoringly before him, yet his understated interactions with his audience played perfectly to his identity as a truly intriguing songwriter. Credit is also due to his accompanying musicians who managed to replicate the album with out regurgitating mindlessly. Flute motifs and guitar licks were full of life, as well as a pair of simpering, near identical backing vocalists, whose considered smiles and effortlessly tuneful contributions were perfect.
In some ways this performance echoed the spirit of artists like Simon and Garfunkel or Cat Stevens. Honest and intelligent songwriting, lovingly crafted and perfectly performed. Worth adding that this may well be exactly what Christopher Owens wants us to think, seeing as he covered both those artists during his encore. Yet in an industry littered with passing trends, flashing lights, flat peaks and Ed Sheeran, Christopher Owens’ love for true and sincere expression is more than a breath of fresh air - it is an oxygen tank. Some may call it ‘gentle’ or ‘twee’, I call it honest, soulful and at times heartbreaking. I eagerly await the return of Christopher Owens to our shores - wherever the place, whatever the wallpaper.
Words: Angus Harrison