The small stage at the Emerson Theater in Indianapolis looks slightly bigger than normal as Craig Owens walks into the spotlight. On this evening, the proclaimed frontman of post-hardcore fame is not flanked by flailing guitarists or even a drummer. Unaccompanied, Owens takes the stage for the first time as badXchannels, his latest solo persona.
It’s the night before the release of WHYDFML, his R&B influenced debut EP, and it’s difficult to gauge expectations. Owens has rarely failed to produce quality music, regardless of those surrounding him, yet this particular endeavor seems like a risk. Furthermore, with only a small collection of badXchannels songs, is there enough material to make the set pop?
Before we find out, the night kicks off with Marina City, an unsigned pop rock act from Chicago that finds themselves on the cusp of a breakthrough. Their set is extremely tight for an opener, with vocalist Ryan Argast hitting a groove early on and getting the crowd involved. Before the band finishes, they climb down to the floor for a campfire-ish acoustic number, encircled by a crowd that seems happy to sing along.
Following an energetic set from Marina City comes Colours, an act newly signed to Victory Records. The duo, comprised of Kyle Tamo and Morgan Alley, feels like a true primer for badXchannels – deep bass and crisp synthesizers fill the room as Colours unleashes their own brand of smooth R&B pop. Tamo captures the sultry feel of his songs with his stage presence as he patiently delivers hooky payoff on tracks like “Monster” and “Gone”.
Once the music dies down and the stage is stripped of neon lights and fog, it feels oddly barren. Aside from a small table at the back of the stage for an accompanying DJ, the open space belongs to Owens, who takes the stage devoid of the ski mask he donned for press photos and his first badXchannels music video. Tonight, he’s just a man in a hoodie who has some songs to share.
Gone is the frantic frontman of bands like Chiodos and D.R.U.G.S. – here, Craig Owens is confident and loose during his songs and humble and grateful between takes. This opening night performance feels intimate and personal.
It’s true – the set is short. Owens performs the five songs from WHYDFML with scattered thoughts shared in between. Each track feels vibrant and full of potential in a live setting, particularly the dark, simmering “You Know I Will” which finds Owens crooning, “I mix my vices with vice / It makes the devil on my shoulder seem nice / She’s playing princess, no lie / I won’t stop her, you can save it, I tried”.
True to his word, these new songs share a striking resemblance to the sinful R&B emissions of The Weeknd, both in tone and message. From the quirky beat and syrupy delivery of “Same Thing Every Day” to the delicate movements of “Complicated”, Owens sounds on point. It’s a complete departure from anything he’s ever done, but at this moment in time, it sounds like the perfect move.
From the stage, Owens shares that he considered stepping away from performance to focus on producing, but just couldn’t seem to give up singing. badXchannels clearly offers him that opportunity in an unexpected form and WHYDFML is a pleasant surprise from front to back.
Before ending his set, Owens’ DJ throws on “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper, leading Owens to climb down into the crowd. “Let’s jump!” he shouts as those in attendance join in on the celebration. This new iteration of Craig Owens is up close and personal for now. With the right moves, badXchannels could find its way to bigger stages in the very near future.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.