Christopher Owens


Oh my. I’ve been waiting to see Christopher Owens in some form or other for about 5 years. I missed his band Girls when they passed through both London and Manchester at various points, and when they went and broke up and I thought I might never get to see some of my favourite songs of the last half decade performed live. This time I’m actually in the city he’s performing in, in support of his new album A New Testament, and even though I have little expectation that he will run through some Girls songs, I’m excited to see him do his country tinged new songs regardless.

The crowd at the Deaf Institute is a bit sparse to say the least, which is a mighty, mighty shame as Owens comes out flanked by six other band members, the seven of them cramming onto Deaf’s stage, one behind an actual Hammond organ, and to Owens’ side two gospel singing ladies of vocal power you rarely hear outside of a Mariah concert anymore. I’m already beaming from ear to ear as they launch into ‘My Ma’ from Girls’ second and last album Father, Son, Holy Ghost , one of my favourite albums of all time. It’s astonishing, the Hammond organ’s glorious tone sailing across the crowd, Owens’ tender voice backed by the sweet gospel of his singers…I’m already rapt and we’re 4 minutes in. ‘It Comes Back To You’ from his new album follows, a similar deep Southern inflected song indebted to the blues Owens’ obviously loves so much, it’s wonderful ending rallying cry of ‘you’ve got to give your love away/it comes back to you’ hollered out by the backing singers – after nearly every song they sweetly turn to Owens and applaud, smiling their heads off towards him as if thanking him for the gifts they’re singing night after night, it’s lovely to see.

At points during the new-album-heavy mid-set, I start to imagine I’ve just walked into a bar in Nashville to see a band jamming, the hoedown vibe of ‘Nothing More Than Everything To Me’, the none more country ‘Key To My Heart’ and the brilliantly tender ‘Overcoming Me’ with it’s extra refrain of Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ ringing out towards the end from his guitarist, I’m transported to another place so far away from the drizzly November night in Manchester where we’re watching this extraordinary set unfold. What comes next though is something else altogether, and is, without a doubt, the highlight of my gig-going year.

For the end of the set is pretty much a Girls best of, and it is fucking incredible. Starting with ‘Love Like A River’, which for me would have been good enough, they follow it up with the two best songs he’s ever written. First up, and undoubted set highlight, is ‘Forgiveness’, the eight minute epic centre piece of Father, Son, Holy Ghost where Owens asks forgiveness across his family ‘if we’re ever gonna move on’, a heartbreaking plea to his estranged parents who he left behind in a cult in his teens (seriously, look up Owens’ back story, it’s amazing). The middle is taken up by a good two minute solo from the band’s guitarist that is unbelievable, climbing and climbing with tension to a moment of release that is so overwhelming that a huge shiver runs through my body and i instantly start to stream tears from my eyes, years of wanting to hear this song live pouring out of me.

‘Vomit’ follows, the final song of the main set, equally as impressive as ‘Forgiveness’ with it’s absolutely crunching guitar solo and coda of ‘come into my heart’ ringing over the crowd, the gospel singers banging it out like no tomorrow, collapsing into a huge with Owen’s too huge whoops from the audience. Owens’ comes back on solo to sing the sweetly devastating ‘Jamie Marie’, a song I assume is dedicated to an ex from his cult days (‘maybe it’s alright, I mean I went and found the modern world, but I miss the way life was when you was my girl’). The band rejoin him for a blast through ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ from Girls’ debut album, and the night is over, everyone around the stage and floor beaming from ear to ear along with me. It’s been a hell of a night, quite an extraordinary gig that I thought I might never get to see. Gig of the year? Could well be.

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