Live Review: Jens Lekman

Live Review: Jens Lekman

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In case you’re not familiar with the name, Jens Lekman attracts the kind of following (note: not fans, followers) where everyone at the concert will constantly remind you that his name is pronounced “Yens.” If the army of thick-frame wearing devotees haven’t scared you away by now, then odds are you’re in for a good time. Lekman brings a refreshing air of comedy to storytelling where others resort to gross-out anecdotes and tired one-liners. Given his Swedish upbringing (yes, the followers will remind you of this as well), there is a European slant of sly humo(u)r to each beat. “There’s a song about this one time I broke up a fight,” he says in a deadpan baritone. “It’s called, ‘I Broke Up A Fight.’” He pauses and looks at the audience, a schoolboy grin on his face. The crowd responds ever so intently in warm, receptive laughter.

Paired with all the smirks and winks are an overwhelming sense of wide-eyed innocence. Lekman is a storyteller first and a comedian second, relying on subtle cues and wordplay rather than lowbrow punchlines. (There are punchlines, but they are the kind of punchlines that are designed to raise your I.Q.) There is a lot of chuckling. The overall mood is more PBS than say, Judd Apatow. Lekman’s sense of timing is spot-on and his jokes bookishly layered. In the crowd-pleasing “Waiting For Kirsten,” Lekman recalls the absurdity and excitement of being name-checked by actress Kirsten Dunst. “I’m just a boy who grew up in the suburbs next to a potato chip factory,” he says, smiling. Halfway through the charming story-song, Lekman halts the tune to teach the audience a lesson: “In Gothenburg, we don’t have VIP lines,” he explains. In Gothenburg, even Kirsten Dunst would have to wait in line for him. That’s fairness.

Over the course of the evening, Lekman casually burrows his way into your heart. Songs like “The Opposite of Hallelujah” boast comically bloated strings and heartfelt, childlike observations. A disco ball descends (with the slightest hint of irony) as Lekman bluntly remarks, “I took my sister down the ocean/ but the ocean made me feel stupid.” Lights swirl round the room, and the crowd claps their hands over jangly barroom piano. The nostalgia in the room is thick enough to be sliced with a knife, but it’s presented in such a way that the audience can’t help but laugh at themselves. What should be a painful trip down memory lane instead tickles the funnybone. Energized, the audience joins Lekman for the chorus— “You don’t know what I’m going through!”

Before things grow too dour, Lekman gently nudges the crowd back to the present. He sets his guitar aside, picks up a nearby tambourine, and places it in the eager hands of an audience member. Either by tambourine or handclap, each member of the crowd contributes to the melody. Lekman, who smiles as he promises, “When I fucked up, I always tried to be true!” actually fucks up mid-song. Not so much embarrassed as he is merely bashful, Lekman touches his face and asks, “Why are you hitting yourself?” Giggles abound. Lekman, amused by the entire ordeal, turns to the drummer and orders, “Do that chorus again, I want to do it right!”

Endlessly self-aware and charming, Lekman lends a sense of class to folk-pop generally reserved for prose. Calling his craft ‘existential comedy’ wouldn’t be too much of a stretch; few other singer-songwriters would turn to the 2001 Gothenburg riots for inspiration when penning a finger-snapping pop song. Lekman is the rare artist who can take something as trivial as a celebrity crush on Kirsten Dunst, and articulate the experience in a way that connects with each audience member on a personal level. It is funny, but it isn’t funny. And by the time you’re done laughing, the devoutness begins to make sense. Jens Lekman is not a comedian, or even a musician. Jens Lekman is a storyteller, and what takes place on stage can only be described as magical. Before too long, you just may find yourself reminding others that his name is pronounced “Yens.”


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