Girls at First Avenue, 10/1/11

Girls at First Avenue, 10/1/11

October 1, 2011
First Ave, Minneapolis

It was the encore that did it. Christopher Owens walked out on stage by himself, a slender wisp of a man with messy blonde hair and sad, sunken eyes. He slung his Rickenbacker over his shoulder and, eyes squinting, set into a solo rendition of "Jamie Marie," a slow, lovelorn ballad steeped in '60s nostalgia.

But Owens' delivery was something more than just nostalgia, or a throwback, or, god forbid, a revival. When he lamented, "I miss how things were when you were my girl," it sounded like a hopelessly naive thing to say, but it was too earnest and genuine to want to do anything other than give the guy a hug.
In that way, Owens felt a lot like a young Jonathan Richman, or more precisely what a young Richman promised to be, had he not traded in his child-like affect for willful childishness. In particular, "Jamie Marie" could have easily been "Hospital," for it resonated on the same level.

Of course, in the case of Girls their music is irrevocably entwined with Owens' traumatic back story. Raised in the Children of God cult, it wasn't until he was a teenager and on his own that he was able to indulge his interest in pop music, so the '60s ransacking has always seemed a little more excusable than it might otherwise be. None of that would matter much if Owens couldn't carry it off, but he does.

The setlist included a healthy mix of the band's two LPs, with janglier, infectious cuts like "Laura" and "Lust for Life" contrasting noticeably with some of the newer material, like the  heavier, grittier "Die" or the dirgy "Vomit." Indeed, the middle part of the set broke up the pace a bit with some extended jams and slow ballads that helped avoid potential monotony. It helped, too, that while Owens has a tendency to let his songs tail off at the finish, meandering rather than giving them a proper ending, is actually well suited to live performances.

But really it all came down to the encore for Girls to deliver, and it seemed they gave most people just what they'd came for. As Owens finished off "Jaime Marie," his band now with him on stage, he lifted his head up and smiled. Then the whole group played "Hellhole Ratrace," their best song, and most of the audience slow danced and sang right along--a hopelessly sentimental moment, but that didn't really matter this time around.

Girls at First Avenue, 10/1/11
Photos by Erik Hess

Critic's Bias: I'm all about Phil Spector. And the Modern Lovers. And Elvis Costello...
The crowd: A little sparse but very enthusiastic. Lots of tall guys with glasses and, yes, some girls.
Overheard in the crowd: "THIS IS AWESOME!" and "YOU GUYS ARE KILLING IT!" courtesy the overenthusiastic, muscular guy in the balcony.
Random notebook dump: There were two openers, Nobunny and Papa. I missed both. Shame on me, I know. But I was at the Nick & Eddie block party, so hopefully that makes up for it.

Honey Bunny
Love Like a River
Lust for Life
My Ma
Morning Light

Jamie Marie
Hellhole Ratrace
Broken Dreams Club

Girls at First Avenue, 10/1/11
Girls at First Avenue, 10/1/11
Openers Nobunny
Openers Nobunny
Photos by Erik Hess

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