I love watching Jens Lekman perform, but sometimes I need a little motivation to get going. Warning: I might use the work quirky a lot in this review.
I’d completely forgotten that he was coming to town on Tuesday until the morning of the show. Another show? Another photo shoot? I was sooooooo tired. I’ve been editing Sasquatch pictures night and day (and day and night) for days on end. I called up Phil, hoping he’d talk some sense into me.
He was completely disgusted, as well he should have been.
“Why are we even having this conversation?” he asked, completely befuddled by my ambivalence. “It’s Jens!”
Phil showed much patience as this silliness went on for several minutes, until at some point I contritely apologized for such a ridiculous call. OF COURSE I was going up to Bottom of the Hill to see Jens. What on earth was I thinking?
I listened to Jens throughout the afternoon to get me in the mood. By 8:30, I’d sung to the kids, tucked them into bed, and was headed north to Bottom of the Hill.
I made my way to my usual location at BOTH, up front on the far stage right corner where there’s an enormous subwoofer. On most nights, I’d perch atop it to shoot, but it seemed a bit aggressive for Jens. He’s soft-spoken and a bit shy. I stick out like a sore thumb when I’m up there three feet higher than the rest of the crowd, and I didn’t want to call any attention to myself and my camera.
First up was Tig Notaro. I’d assumed this was some sort of Scandi band I hadn’t heard of. But to my surprise, Tig Notaro is a female comic. Jens came out and introduced her himself. Stand Up Comedy as an opener for Jens? “OK, I’ll go with that” I thought. “Jens knows best.” Tig was low-key and quirky and kept us all amused with her quirky humor about bad haircuts, self defense, and being artificially inseminated with a dinosaur sponge. Even a crossed-arm grumpus in the front row didn’t phase her.
By 10:30, we were on the main event, Mr. Lekman himself. He’s got a new four-piece band, and they were are full of smiles and energy, just like Jens. His drummer was my favorite he made these goofy-expressions, such like a mime as he played. I’m sure it wasn’t purposeful, just an honest and enthused reaction to the poppy melodies for which he kept crisp time.
One of the things I love about a Jens Lekman show is the sense of intimacy. It’s a combination of openness on his part and most importantly his ability to bring the audience into the performance. On one song, he’ll have the whole audience sing harmonies. Not just for a chorus, but for the entire song. For another, he brought out a tiny little feater, and kindly requested that we keep it aloft above our heads for the entire song. Of course, we obliged!
Another thing that makes his show special is that Jens is a great storyteller. He’ll often chat for several minutes before a song begins, of break into a lengthy explanation right in the middle of a song while gentile guitar strums and a light snare keep the beat. My favorite story that he often tells is about the song “Postcard to Nina. ” Given the past week’s events here in California, this time he started the tale a bit differently, “Here’s a gentle response to all the Prop 8 bullshit going on…” and then he launched into the quirky tale of how his lesbian friend Nina convinced him to come to Berlin. Unbeknownst to Jens, the first stop was a vegetarian dinner at Nina’s parents house, where he was introduced as her fiance. The last time I saw Jens, the story was a bit longer, containing details of his miserable 20 hour bus ride to Berlin, but both versions were equally funny. The tale says so much about Jens. It’s equally awkward, observant and self-effacing, while deploying deadpan humor and wit, and most importantly, warm-hearted compassion for all involved.
About the only time he doesn’t show compassion, is when dealing with himself. A new song, “An Argument With Myself” is a great example, and he played it with percussive passion on Tuesday night. I can’t remember the lyrics, but according to the LA times review of the night before it’s about “skulking about a dirty Australian street, figuratively and literally suggesting he stop hitting himself and sneering at his new-found propensity for smoking.”
I really don’t remember exactly what he played and in which order. Songs included, but were not limited to:
The Opposite of Hallelujah
Your Arms Around Me
Postcard to Nina
Sipping on the Sweet Nectar
I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You
I noticed that Jens and each band member had a lovely key around their neck. I was intrigued, and was disappointed that he didn’t mention the keys during his set. I didn’t stay afterward to chat with Jens, so I had to let my fingers do the walking with google once I got home. The key mystery was unlocked via Jen’s blog. he doesn’t have a proper name for them, but from his description I’d call them “Keys to Happiness.” He’d had them specially made in Italy for this tour, but the keys were so popular, they sold out in San Luis Obispo. Bummer! That must be why they weren’t mentioned. No use rubbing our faces in the fact that we can’t have one for 3-12 months. I appreciate the compassion, Jens.
A larger set of photos from the show is available on flickr:
[flickr album=72157619162212673 num=10 size=Square]