Christopher Owens at the 9:30 Club

Former Girls member Christopher Owens performs his album 'Lysandre' at the 9:30 Club. Photo: Christopher Owens

WASHINGTON, February, 15, 2012 —Relating a complete narrative through some pop music form or format isn’t necessarily what this medium is really suited for. Some audiences might be able to glean an understanding of the narrative’s basic plot by carefully noting the song titles song titles and sequences and on-the-nose choruses in a recording or a live performance. But for the most part, a narrative line is hard to follow along in a concert setting given the crowds and the distractions. Still this is something Christopher Owens is attempting to do at the 9:30 Club by running through his first solo album, Lysandre, in its entirety.

This isn’t that much of a problem when listening to the album individually, when it’s easier to focus on specific moments in song or narrative. One thing that always works in Owens’ favor is that he never goes overboard with song structure, keeping the length of his songs relatively short, allowing the listener to keep up with what’s happening whenever possible. The problem lies in trying to associate the patterns of essential imagery to render his narrative coherent, including the lyrics and sounds necessary to make each individual song work in and of itself as well as a part of the story. This gets even trickier when the listener tries to link each of those songs into a cohesive whole.

Performing a set of this nature live makes the transition from narrative to song even more difficult. The live audience isn’t necessarily ready to follow along with a story. It’s not the easiest thing to do when the expected focus of a live concert is clearly on the music as well as the audience’s desire to get physically moving along with the sound.

It takes an extra effort to isolate the narrative elements if that’s the artist’s intention, as well as understanding how that corresponds to a sound that’s presumably shaped to reinforce the narrative as well. In addition, in a concert environment, there’s not much that’s readily available to guide the audience along the narrative path. You don’t generally get pages of detailed explanatory notes like you do at the Kennedy Center. So in a live performance, Owens is completely on his own to get his narrative across.

Still, he has several things working in his favor during his live set. Unlike most any other music concert at the 9:30 Club – this is different, normally, if they’re offering a non-musical act – Owens’ show was a seated event. This was important, as it allowed the audience to better focus on Owens’ set as he moved his way through Lysandre’s program of songs. It’s a given how distracting standing while viewing a band can actually be. There are too many and varied stimulants available simultaneous with a given band’s performance, which isn’t of itself necessarily a bad thing. After all, a band’s main goal is usually is to capture the moment during its performance, which can actually make all those other distractions work for them.

In a set such as Owens offered, however, those same distractions might easily have distracted his audience from the point he was trying to make with his narrative. So, even if it seemed somewhat odd at first, transforming the 9:30 Club into a seated venue for this one show made perfect sense. It was a clear signal that made focusing on Owens alone for the entire show both easier and more important.

Owens, himself also stays on point for the whole show. The kind of music he’s playing is in the vein of indie folk with some interesting things happening around the edges. Usually, musicians in his position tend to be on the talkative side as they progress through their set. This isn’t the case with Owens though, who keeps his target on the set throughout the entire show until he reappeared for the encore, a clear departure from his Lysandre material.

Considering Owens’ ultimate intention, his focus is understandable and rather welcome, as he wants to keep the audience’s attention on what he’s playing and why. Clearly, Owens does a reasonably good job making his narrative clear and transparent. The story of his road trip and falling for his title character is right in the forefront.

To Owens’ credit, it’s a distinct positive that he never complicates things, whether it’s involved with song structure or story progression. His set is relatively simple to follow throughout, right down to his neat little touch of consistently repeating “Lysandre’s Theme,” presumably as a way to announce the title character’s presence.  These are small but interesting moments that indicate to the audience time and again how all his material is connected.

Despite the natural simplicity of Owens’ set, what he’s attempting here is rather ambitious, especially in a live setting. By keeping things short and on point throughout his performance, he increases the emotional impact of his music and narrative. Perhaps it’s not always easy to follow everything he puts out there. But he crafts it well enough to make his program effective and successful in achieving its overall intent.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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