Christopher Owens has had a somewhat dulled public resurgence in the wake of the break-up of Girls, his original project. His latest LP, Lysandre, is by no means bad—in fact, it’s quite beautiful—but it isn’t getting anywhere near the acclaim of his albums with Girls. Lysandre is a short, 28-minute concept album about Owens falling in love while on tour, and it trades the intensity and innovation of Girls with airy, folk rock-heavy sounds. Yet Thursday night’s show at the Memorial Chapel showed the album in a new light, revealing Owens as a master craftsman whether playing his own material or covering other songs.
After a solid—albeit short—set from opener Mara Connor, who performed both original acoustic material and covers of tracks from The Jesus and Mary Chain and Girls, Owens quickly took the stage with an eight-piece band and jumped into the entirety of his new album. From start to finish, Owens and his band sounded crisp and his eclectic folk music was a perfect fit for the size and atmosphere of the Memorial Chapel. Particularly impressive was the band’s flautist, who also played saxophone and harmonica on various tracks across the set.
Perhaps what was most surprising about Thursday’s show was how much Owens altered the material in performing it live. This isn’t to say that there were necessarily additions or major changes to the arrangements, but the entirety of the album sounded grander compared to the LP’s slicker production. Both the recording and the live performance of Lysandre are entertaining, but the live performance made the emotional connections that much stronger. Tracks like “New York City,” which are perhaps too short on the album, were given a chance to air out and expand, and Owens’ strained voice on “A Broken Heart” made his profoundly personal statements much more impactful.
After the close of the album’s epilogue, “Part of Me,” Owens returned for a cover-laden encore, the highlight of the show. Opening with “Wild World,” a Cat Stevens cover, and Deep Purple’s “Lalena,” Owens moved into two fantastic covers: first, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and then Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Owens didn’t attempt to surpass these artists so much as he reinvented the songs, giving them a more orchestrated, perhaps romantic twist, especially with “The Boxer.” He captured what makes these songs great without sacrificing his own voice.
At the core of the performance was Owens’ true skill as a musical craftsman. With the exception of Owens giving out several white roses to the audience—and, frankly, who wouldn’t want that—there was little frivolity to Owens’ performance. He arrived onstage, he performed, and he left. There was no banter with the audience and little playing to the crowd’s interests. It was this adherence to his own singular vision that made Thursday’s show so captivating and cemented Owens as an artist who is committed to his craft.