Saturday, March 22, 2008

jens lekman @ the henry fonda

Admittedly, there isn't much to say about Jens Lekman that LMS hasn't said already. But though it was her third time seeing the Swedish pop phenom within the last year, it was my first ever, and I was surprised to find that none of the things I'd heard about his live shows were exaggerated. Including that they're an overwhelming love-fest between musicians and audience in which it's impossible to tell who's more enthusiastic and it's impossible to be completely impervious to that enthusiasm.

To get to that point, though, I had to overcome two things: opening act The Honeydrips (who are, in fact, one solitary individual singing over prerecorded tracks in the most uninteresting manner possible...not to be overly blunt about it or anything), and some residual skepticism over Jens himself. His music is so over-the-top and at times so sugary, and his voice is so mellifluous, that unless you can believe in the sincerity of its creator, it threatens a certain hollowness underneath the sheen -- however clever that sheen might be. But from the moment Jens finally took the stage with his slightly pigeon-toed guitar stance and finished "The Opposite of Hallelujah" with an inspiring display of air xylophone, the question of sincerity became irrelevant.

Backed, as usual, by an all-female band including a bass player, drummer, cellist and violinist, the set proceeded from there on a rising arc of loveliness and absurdity. For purposes of journalistic integrity,1 this should be a review of Jens' musical performance rather than his comedic one, but it becomes difficult to separate the two. For instance, we got to hear about a giant castle (seven towers, a moat, and a catapult) built entirely of business cards collected at SXSW. Before playing "A Postcard to Nina," Jens feigned, in perfect deadpan, a conversation between himself the audience in which he convinced himself to tell the extended version of the tale despite the innumerable times he'd already done so. He then proceeded to embellish the details further than ever. Most gloriously of all, the entire band later abandoned their instruments in the middle of "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar" glide around the stage like airplanes.

It's true -- a lot of this falls under the "you kind of had to be there" category. But really, you should have.

Interspersed throughout, of course, were fluid musical performances, prominently featuring that larger-than-life voice and well-executed, grandiose arrangements. It became apparent towards the end that both the crowd and Jens were reluctant to let him leave the stage, and two encores resulted before either side was willing to say goodnight.

1We care about that here. No, really.

(photo Jens Lekman: Kristin Lidell)

mp3: "Pocketful of Money" by Jens Lekman

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