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Chris Owens At The Ebell Theater, Friday March 22nd 2013

The day after a Chris Owens show, the memory settles down in your mind like a feather; with a dreamy tone and vibe, 2 back-up singers and a vase of white roses on stage, the show was light, subtle, and certainly musically anchored in the past without being outdated. ‘Not even a Girls song’, I heard a young woman say when leaving the Ebell Theater, ‘I was surprised!’ On Friday night, Chris Owens had settled down for this 60s-inspired pretty and delicate music, embellished with ethereal flute, Toots-Thielemans-style harmonica and vibrant sax, and he didn’t even hesitate to cover big classics from Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Donovan and Bob Dylan, going with the period.

 

At first, I was a little disappointed by the brevity of the set, after all Owens’ ‘Lysandre’ is a short album, he and his band played it in order, just followed by 5 covers, and the whole thing lasted for less than an hour… but I now understand what he was doing, he was installing his lo-fi intimate album in history, and nothing else was necessary, just the recurrent ‘Lysandre’ theme that was played many times during the show, like bookend musical poems.

 

Chris Owens had an unassuming but confident presence on stage, singing with an interesting voice mixing frail and warm qualities, he was either seating, or was standing up and moving with his five musicians and 2 lovely back-up singers, all of them playing the songs with a great fidelity. With his flowered jacket, his mid-long blonde hair constantly covering his face, he looked a little bit like a Kurt Cobain with a 60s obsession and some flower-power idea… he gave away to the crowd these beautiful white roses at the end of the show and I have seen only two people doing this, him and Cat Power!

 

From song to song, from the gorgeous ‘Here We Go’ to the full-of-life ‘New York City’ or the melancholic ‘A Broken Heart’, the music was alternating between this fine line that separates sadness and joy, excitation and heartbreak, but it was always coming back to this same Lysandre girl. ‘Love is in the ear of the listener’ had a great comical effect live, as people were quietly laughing behind me at lines like, ‘What if everybody just thinks I'm a phony/What if nobody ever gets it/Well, some people never get anything/And I shouldn't care what people think/What if people are sick of hearing love songs/Maybe I should sing about dyin’… Conor Oberst came to my mind at that precise minute.

 

As I said, it went very fast, they all disappeared for a minute and came back to play a 60s lover’s dream playlist with Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’, Donovan’s ‘Lalena’, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’, The Everly Brothers’ ‘Let It Be Me’ (also sung by many others) and Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. With such classics, he certainly didn’t take any risks, his band plays them at every show anyway, and I was wondering whether the young crowd around me was demanding of these oldies? Of course, you can blame Owens’ stuck-in-the-60s musical development to the fact he was himself stuck in this Children of God cult till he was 16, and only seems to be catching up for what he has missed out. And I can’t wait when he reaches the 90s and plays a set of Nirvana, Oasis, Radiohead covers.

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