The extent of my affection for Jens Lekman may have to do with the fact that I saw him play live before listening to any of his albums. Despite his mild-mannered, soft-spoken demeanor, the man is brimming with personality. In 2006 my friend Rachel took me down to the Mercury Lounge in New York to see him play. It was the beginning of a Swedish indie pop obession that may have possibly spun out of control since, but who can really define “control” anyway? A year later I saw him at the Troubador in LA, where the audience was so in synch with Jens that it was almost a religious experience. Ask anyone who was there. Especially the handful of people who hung around afterwards and got to see him play a few more songs, house lights up in an empty venue, just a Swede with a guitar and a giant parrot on his pink sweater.
Last night I went down to Music Hall of Williamsburg with my friend Erik and his boyfriend Jake for Jens’ third sold out show over the weekend. We shared stories of shows we had been to, because like Lekman’s songs, each show is an experience and a little story unto itself: simple, yet meaningful and unique. We found a spot near the stage at the front of the crowd, which wasn’t too hard since it was a school night (I have nothing against the youthiest youths going to shows, in fact, I think it’s awesome, but they do tend to monopolize the breathing room by the stage).
The show was unexpected yet familiar. Jens was alone onstage, save for a drummer with killer backup vocals. He set the room ablaze with ‘A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill’ using only his guitar, voice, and enigmatic interaction with the audience. There is an amazingly instinctive connection between audience and performer at a Jens Lekman show, the likes of which I have yet to experience with another artist. His fan base is devoted indeed, singing along with songs like ‘Waiting for Kirsten,’ a song off his just-released EP Argument with Myself. It’s about stalking Kirsten Dunst in Göthenburg; endearing, funny, and slightly heartbreaking in a very Jens Lekman sort of way. “In Göthenburg we don’t have VIP lines” is a sweet, giggle-worthy reasoning for why Kirsten failed to get into a club, but the song quickly moves into how “the VIP lines are not to the clubs, but to healthcare, apartments, and jobs.” True that.
In a brilliant change of pace, he played a low-key, almost somber version of the classic song ‘Black Cab,’ a lush, upbeat celebration of taking a sketchy cab home after killing a party with his personality. A somewhat ironic thought, as without so much as a gesture, he took the buzzing energy he had created in the room and shifted it to an attentive silence focused on him within seconds.
Lekman’s voice has an expressive quality that conveys emotion in a stunningly moving way. When hearing him sing playful songs I found myself unable to stop from grinning ear to ear, and when hearing a song like last night’s version of ‘Black Cab’, his voice made the air in the room taut with each high note, releasing into longing with each return to verse. If you ever want your heart ripped out in the most beautiful, gentle way, put on ‘Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song’ from the album Oh, You’re So Silent Jens.
His humor still flows out genuinely, slightly awkwardly, and endearingly. He is connected with his audience, and they to him, because he wants to be. He hangs around after shows to meet fans and occasionally plays impromptu after shows on someone’s rooftop or in their living room. After throwing handfuls of flower petals into the audience and leaving the stage, he was called back for his first encore and immediately barraged with requests (something that always catches me off-guard because I find it rude to yell instructions at a performer onstage, but I digress). He smiled down at his guitar and said “I only take requests if you have them tattooed.” When a fan yelled before his second encore, “Give ‘em hell, Jens!” he responded with, “I can’t give ‘em hell with a nylon string guitar.” He then cut through the laughter in the room with a single chord, and proceeded to wreck our hearts again with his voice through a rendition of “And I Remember Every Kiss.”
I’ll leave you with a track off the new EP because I’ve had it on repeat a lot lately.
(And for the record, it’s pronounced “Yenz”)