June 12, 2015
Last Friday night, Christopher Owens returned to Houston for the first time since leaving his former band, Girls, in 2012. But the fact that he was performing as a solo artist did not seem to deter the crowd one bit, and the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter drew a decent-sized audience to Fitzgerald's downstairs room for an intimate performance.
When he took the stage Owens looked happier and healthier than he did three years prior, when he last performed with Girls in Houston, but this time he seemed noticeably more bashful. Because I’ve only seen him perform twice (and both times with Girls), shyness is not a trait I’ve noticed in Owens before. With any other musician I normally wouldn't bat an eye, but it was an interesting thing to witness because Owens has always had quite a candid and transparent dialogue with his fans and the media. But despite any nerves, Owens' presence still commanded the crowd's attention, and there wasn’t a person in the crowd who wasn’t ready to follow along.
Owens, leading three other musicians, kicked things off with “Heartbreaker” and “Alright,” two tracks from Girls’ Broken Dreams Club EP. It wasn’t until the third song of the evening that we heard Owens’ solo work in the form of a beautifully orchestrated version of “Out of Bed (Lazy Head),” which included every detail found on the album version, bird sounds and all. The 22-song set followed this trend, alternating between songs Owens released as a solo artist and those from his time in Girls. More specifically, each song came from one of three albums: Girls Broken Dreams Club and Album, or Owens’ newest solo release, Chrissybaby Forever – a secret album that was released in late May via BandCamp.
Chrissybaby Forever’s release follows with the trend of musicians releasing albums in secret, much like we’ve seen with artists like Beyoncé and Drake. In this instance, Owens wrote, performed and produced the album with the help of engineers JJ Wiesler and Jay Pellici. Because his new material has only been public knowledge for the last two weeks or so, I was a bit unsure about how well the new tracks would sound in a live setting.
On record, Chrissybaby Forever's content grabs you immediately with its content, but there’s something that feels just one stop short. But after hearing the songs in a live setting, it was easier to connect the dots and see what Owens was thinking when he wrote the song, so anything that felt lacking suddenly clicked, leaving further proof that Owens’ songwriting skills are only exceeded by his ability to curate them in a live setting.
In fact, I frequently found myself wishing that the performance were being recorded for a live album, not a thought I can say I’ve had too often.
The only thing that felt disappointing about Owens’ performance was that, because this was his first ever solo stop in Houston, the set list felt as though it were lacking some of his best tracks from his solo career thus far. Even more interesting was his decision not to perform any of the tracks off of his second solo album, A New Testament, which has a heavy dose of honky-tonk layered on top of his signature jangle-pop, especially with his family (including his mom) in the audience.
You see, Christopher Owens’ backstory isn’t your average one, and it’s hard to find an article written about him where his upbringing in the Children of God cult isn’t mentioned. What those articles fail to mention, however, is the near-decade he spent living in Texas before relocating to San Francisco. That said, I would have loved to hear how he transformed his ballad, “Overcoming Me,” or the steel-guitar driven “Nothing More Than Everything to Me.” But I have to admit, it was wonderful to hear him blend in so many Girls tracks, and there’s always next time, right?
Instead, it’s hard not to reflect on all of the ways Owens got it right, and it’s even harder not to appreciate how committed Owens is to his music. At times, he seemed so unabashedly present and vulnerable that it you could see pain written all over his face, while other times he was overcome with such joy at the way a song flourished that he’d burst into a grin.
It’s moments like that, which made me feel as though I belong somewhere, even if that belonging is only temporary. And in those moments it’s hard to feel anything other than gratefulness to be graced with the works of musicians like Owens. It was certainly worth waiting three years for.
Opening Act: A solo set from Chris Zack, aka Sacoustico, from local group dUNETX. I’ve not heard much from this group before, but he did a pretty fantastic cover of Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept.”
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Personal Bias: I am a big fan of Girls and Christopher Owens, so I definitely enjoyed covering this one.
The Crowd: Mostly college-aged men and women, many of whom were more interested in their outward appearance than the opening act.
Out of Bed (Lazy Head)
Coffee and Tea
Me Oh My
When You Say I Love You
What About Love
Music Of My Heart
Big Bad Mean Motherfucker
Another Loser Fuck Up
Heroine (Got Nothing On You)
Broken Dreams Club
Take Care Of Myself Again
Come On and Kiss Me