Owen - live in Allston (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


live in Allston (2011)

live show

Opener Azita came on a little late, but maybe it wasn't her fault. It was only her and her keyboard, the latter of which seemed like it was set up for quite a while. So she proceeded to play her full half-hour set despite the show running a little late at this point. She played alright solo piano songs with these sort of wild facial expressions and mildly unsettling emotions to it all. Overall, it seemed kind of in the Kate Bush vein. My friend thought Björk. I think we were both right. I just wish her dynamics were a little more pronounced, as everything had this pensive and too-direct (though aesthetically quirky) feel that made it a little stagnant.

My friend and I settled into the back of the room for a second round of Shipyard Pumpkin Ale (highly recommended) while Caithlin De Marrais (backed by a full band) went on. I didn't even realize it until the next day during post-show review research, but she's the former frontwoman of Rainer Maria. Did not have a clue. In retrospect, maybe I would have paid greater attention to the set had I known that, but the performance still left me feeling indifferent. It was okay stuff in the vein of atmospheric indie--again, just not very dynamic, and too steady for its own good. The last song they played was noticeably better, though--much more assertive and anthemic, and I'd be inclined to check out their studio recordings if they were more on that level.

The small floor to the back of Great Scott packed out as Mike Kinsella prepared to play a solid hour of his unassuming, bare "folk" songs as Owen. As expected, it was a totally pleasant set: I wasn't 100% overwhelmed by song choice (my request for "Who Found Whose Hair in Whose Bed" went unfulfilled despite agreement in the crowd, and no "O, Evelyn?" Weird.) or the performance itself (though solemn and very steady). But Kinsella played solidly enough, was usually in tune and had a quiet candor that improved as the set went on. Earlier, it was pretty awkward, with little chatter from Kinsella between songs while he tuned and the crowd remained politely silent (as they did during the set, for the most part). He seemed to warm up to us a couple songs in, though, getting more audience members to shout out answers to small-talk queries ("Anyone have work tomorrow? School?"). "Something memorable needs to happen here so you don't forget about this show," he said at one point early on. Later on, when he broke a string after "Everyone's Asleep in the House But Me," a fellow in the audience pointed out that Kinsella might have gotten that memorable moment he was hoping for. Instead of retorting with a dickish response, Kinsella laughed and awarded him a free CD for his fan's clever, memory-enhanced observation. Nice move.

Just before that string break, Kinsella simply stated, "I'm gonna do some encore songs," and went to tuning his guitar. I'm sure we could all appreciate the skipping over of contrived live maneuvers, though the crowd emitted a loud groan when we heard the harsh "snap." Kinsella begrudgingly went to replacing the string before moving into "Good Friends, Bad Habits" at the request of one particular person--the crowd did have to help him remember a lyric, with Kinsella smirking as the audience urged him on.

It has to be difficult to hold an audience for an hour-plus by yourself when you have no gimmicks to go on, but Kinsella did it impressively. Maybe a lot of that is just due to the culture of earnest appreciation he's earned from playing in and shaping the emo/indie rock scene and sound of the last two decades, but still...you can't always coast on reputation alone, and this collection of ably performed songs (ranging from 2004's I Do Perceive up through his newest, Ghost Town) was proof that his songwriting itself continues to hold them strong.

Set list (11:00-12:06):

  1. Brown Hair in a Bird's Nest
  2. The Anthropology Song
  3. Bag of Bones
  4. No Language
  5. Playing Possum for a Peed
  6. New Leaves
  7. The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi
  8. The Armoire
  9. No Place Like Home
  10. Bad News
  11. Everyone's Asleep in the House But Me
  12. Good Friends, Bad Habits
  13. A Bird in Hand
  14. Too Many Moons