Monday, Oct. 29, 2007
Jens Lekman was magical. Every moment he was on stage, the room seemed to get brighter and happier. Even though Paradise Lounge was packed to the gills, a gentle harmony effused through the room. The crowd danced side by side, and no one seemed to mind the throngs of hipsters pushing their way up front. It must’ve been the Jens Lekman effect.
Dressed in a white shirt with an embroidered rose, Jens Lekman sang and smiled, gracious, it seemed, for every song he was allowed to perform. A cadre of perfectly Swedish ladies accompanied him with horns, drums, and strings. Clad in matching white outfits, they were the most precocious band ever (eat your heart out Belle and Sebastian). Everyone on stage was simply adorable, especially when they all danced in step and did the airplane during one of the tunes. I wanted to take them all with me to have them play music as I do everyday things, just to cheer me up.
Jens Lekman’s music is so earnest, so heartfelt; it is almost hard to stomach. I thought initially that I wouldn’t last two hours of the stuff, but then every song was a change of pace, a change of style. As a composer and writer, he’s a thief and a shape shifter. He moved from Motown inspired ballads to emotional Morrisey-ish narratives and then brought it all home with silly happy/sad songs that were whimsical tearjerkers. Musically, he was all over the place, shifting from ’60s bass driven doo-wops laced with horn fills to beat driven baroque lounge pieces. His voice was the only constant: a sweet baritone shielded between harmonizing strings and horns. At times he was alone on stage crooning lyrical narratives about Spanish love interests over sparse chords.
Jens Lekman might still be stuck in childhood. As he performed, he played on his words, belted paeans to the lady that cuts his hair, and gave undue attention to ditties that he remembers from growing up. He seemed struck by the notion that he’s even remotely well known — that people actually like his musings-turned-music. This is after all, a guy who, in response to his first hit record, attempted to take an extended hiatus to be a Bingo announcer.
But this night Jens Lekman was in Boston, playing a second encore and complimenting the crowd on how well they stomped. As he started the last tune, only two bars in, a girl screamed, “Yes!!!!!” and he was immediately taken aback with a wide grin.
Jens Lekman is probably the kind of guy you can e-mail, and he will respond personally and enthusiastically. “He is,” corrects my buddy Gordon, who did e-mail him. Gordon invited him to visit the Urban Planning Department at MIT. Although Jens had other commitments, he replied nonetheless, saying something to the effect of, “Urban planning. Does that make you feel like a God?”
Jens Lekman is a God. OK, that’s a stretch. But maybe he qualifies as a minor deity of melody. His set included some of the most beautifully constructed pop tunes ever. Like many pop wunderkinds (Sufjan Stevens, Zach Condon, for example), he has an uncanny knack for orchestration. The arrangements were deftly fleshed out with just enough strings, horns, and samples to give them abundant life without hitting a sonic wall of clutter.
More important than even the music, Jens Lekman seemed to really enjoy himself on stage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musician radiate that much happiness from the microphone stand. It’s contagious. It streams from the notes and chords. It certainly doesn’t seem like he could do this every other night, but somehow, he does. If he could play all night, he probably would. He’s like a perpetual energy machine. Yes. There, I’ve said it. Jens Lekman breaks the second law of thermodynamics. He is an escalating hyperbole. He is one hell of a show.