Home the Knitting Factory with Owen
Last Saturday was the night I had been waiting for for months.
This past school year when I was a senior and the promotions director at WHUS, I spent much of my free time in the spring semester trying to book a show that in the end never happened. The artist I had been hoping to book was Owen, and as I had never seen him live before, I was especially disappointed when all my hard work fell apart. Flash forward about eight or nine months and I saw that Owen, who is from Chicago, was playing two concerts in New York the first weekend in December, the latter being at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. I immediately bought a ticket and although I ended up being sick when December 4th arrived, I mustered up the strength to leave home for the night and take a train to the city. I was not going to miss this show.
I missed the first opener, but arrived just in time to hear Brian Bonz, a twenty-four-year-old musician from Brooklyn, perform. Bonz generally plays with a full band, but at this show he was accompanied only by another guitarist. He spent probably an equal amount of time playing music as he did telling bizarre jokes which the audience only laughed at because they were so ridiculous and because he was very obviously stoned. He told us about how he had gotten his hair cut earlier in the day and that he thought his curly locks made him resemble Cupid, then how he bet all of us wished that he was wearing a diaper. He introduced one song by telling us that it was about a time in high school when he and a friend were bored and decided to look for drugs underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and his friend got jumped and disappeared for a week. He laughed the entire way through telling this story. People in the audience kept shouting, “Chunk!” at him, and he would stop telling his own stories to agree with the audience and further compare himself to Chunk from The Goonies. I honestly don’t even remember what his music sounded like now, though he did close his set with a Broken Social Scene cover. Bonz’s set was definitely entertaining however, even if the music was not memorable.
Shortly afterwards, Mike Kinsella, who performs under the moniker Owen, grabbed a chair, sat down in front of the microphone, and began to play. Although Kinsella plays solo now, he is a former member of influential emo bands Cap’n Jazz and American Football, which were both active in the 1990s. Owen’s songs are crafted in the vein of his earlier bands, with bold yet passionate lyrics sung over intricate guitar melodies. At this concert, he played several songs off his newest album New Leaves which was released on Polyvinyl Records in 2009, as well as his 2006 album At Home With, with audience requests for some other fan favorites mixed in. Kinsella, like Bonz, interacted with the crowd a lot as well, but was more relaxed and less…ridiculous than his opener. When Kinsella had first come out on stage, I heard someone behind me comment that he had perfected the “just gotten out of bed look,” with his disheveled hair and beard, and after playing his first song, he looked deep into the audience and asked, “So does anybody want to talk about anything?” The witty side conversations combined with the small, intimate venue made for a very relaxed atmosphere, and at times I didn’t feel as though I was at a concert; rather, it felt like a bunch of strangers had gotten together to visit an old friend who has come to visit. There wasn’t that (sometimes) invisible barrier that divides audience from musician; there was just Owen and two hundred other people, who all wanted to talk in between songs about Fantasy Football, the Cap’n Jazz reunion this past summer, and the time three years ago in Boston when Kinsella got drunk and started playing Metallica songs on the drums while on tour with Rocky Votolato. Likewise, Kinsella felt relaxed enough that if he played a wrong note or his guitar did not sound like it was quite in tune, he would just stop, make some funny comment, chuckle, take a long sip from his beer, and either start the song over or continue where he had left off. His set lasted for about an hour, running a little past eleven-o-clock, at which point he told us there was going to be “dancing for Justin’s birthday!”, whoever Justin happened to be. Kinsella didn’t know, either, but he would regularly ask us in the middle of a song or during those short in between conversations if we were all excited for dancing afterwards. Though everyone wanted to hear an encore, and Kinsella did in fact return to the stage after his performance, it was only to open another beer, sit down in his chair, and ask us if we wanted to hear any jokes. In response to everyone’s request of, “play another song!” he simply replied, “I don’t know any more songs,” and after a few more minutes of banter bid us good night and exited the stage. It was not quite the ending one would expect to such a special concert, but encore or not the show was absolutely amazing and totally worth any valuable sleep I may have lost from having a cold.
Here is a video of my favorite Owen song, "The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi":