The Lodge is a small, regal venue hidden within San Francisco’s much-larger Regency Ballroom. After walking up three flights of stairs, you enter a 300-person capacity space that’s more accustomed to community theater than rock shows. As its name suggests, the Lodge is warm and cozy, draped with floor-to-ceiling blood-red fabric that gives one the sensation of being in a womb. Which is fitting, since the venue was the setting of a rebirth of sorts for Christopher Owens, formerly of Girls. On Friday night, for the first time since announcing he was leaving that acclaimed duo, Owens was back on stage – surrounded by new touring mates, backup singers, and even a one-man horn section – to introduce the Bay Area crowd to his first solo album, Lysandre, in a live setting.
Owens donned a suit for his first solo gig, which made the occasion feel almost like a religious rite of passage. He wasted no time launching into Lysandre, which flows like a long suite divided into two parts: The first half turns the singer’s creative process into a travelogue, opening up in New York City and ending in San Francisco. The second act, which crosses the Atlantic to Europe, is dedicated to Lysandre herself, a women Owens fell in love with after meeting at a music festival. In short, as evidenced by the playbills that rested on the audience’s chairs upon arrival, this was more the live debut of a long-form composition than a typical rock concert.
The Lysandre material itself was just as musically adventurous as its subject matter: Owens and his band weaved together elements of folk (the ballad “A Broken Heart”), prog, punk (the CBGB-worthy “New York City,” which features a patent E Street Band saxophone solo), pop (the satirical sing-along “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener”), calypso (“Riviera Rock”) and pure AM Gold (“Everywhere You Knew”). The reoccurring “Lysandre’s Theme,” played on a Renn-Fest flute, made the Lodge briefly resemble a Renaissance Faire. “Here We Go” was like a lost track off Lou Reed’s similarly Manhattan-indebted Coney Island Baby. However, Owens didn’t completely abandon his Girls roots: The rocker “Here We Go Again” had the Elvis Costello/Graham Parker vibe showcased on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the centerpiece title track, “Lysandre,” is as epic as Girls’ “Vomit,” albeit gentler and more breathtaking.
After the performance of the new album ended, Owens and his new crew reemerged for an encore performance of five covers that seem to inspire and even enrich the Lysandre tapestry. First up was a poignant take on Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” – Stevens’ music especially seems to inform Owens’ new direction – followed by Donovan’s ode “Lalena.” Next up was Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” which would have fit nicely within the NYC segment of Lysandre, and then the oft-covered “Let It Be Me,” made famous by the Everly Brothers. Finally, to close out the hour-long experience, Owens ended on a high note with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” It was a short but sweet show, almost a coronation, as it proved to fans that Owens could be just as powerful and moving without the Girls moniker. It also had the Lodge crowd counting the days until the album Lysandre arrives in January.
“Here We Go”
“New York City”
“A Broken Heart”
“Here We Go Again”
“Love Is in the Ear of the Listener”
“Everywhere You Knew”
“Part of Me (Lysandre’s Theme)”
“Wild World” (Cat Stevens cover)
“Lalena” (Donovan cover)
“The Boxer” (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
“Let It Be Me” (Everly Brothers cover)
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (Bob Dylan cover)