Jens Lekman tours are infrequent but always special. Tonight’s sold out gig at the Deaf Institute was one of only two UK dates from the Swede now living in Australia. Jens with seven-piece backing band including Scots pianist Bill Wells played a 90 minute set to a reverential audience including five new songs. Then after the show he played another five songs in the unlikely setting of Sand Bar. Both were magical experiences and I could wax lyrical about either, or both, at great length. Instead I’m just going to write about two songs, one from each set.
Following the opening new song ('The Golden Key'?), Jens and (at this point) five-piece band neatly segued into 'The Opposite of Hallelujah' from 2007’s “Nightfall Over Kortedala”. Jens moved from centre stage to play piano – but a cable wasn’t working. So whilst the band continued to play the intro he picked up acoustic guitar and returned back to the mic now at the wrong height. Such technical malfunctions so early in a song might have floored many but this was handled with such unflappable cool I’m not sure many people watching even noticed. But this was not the most remarkable thing about this performance however.
The clever rhythms and lush string effects were delivered beautifully – a gorgeous mix of swoon and swing as on record – but with the band coming across like an all star soul revue band (two saxophones!). Jens passed out a tambourine into the audience at one point but true theatrics were to follow. The playing stopped mid-song and Jens and Viktor (laptop/samples) mimed a synchronised dance to a recorded snatch of 'Gimme Just A Little More Time' by Chairmen of The Board before the song effortlessly blended back to live playing. Then the whole song finished with a beautiful vignette as the musicians stopped playing and left Jens to reach out and upwards and mime playing chimes above the heads of the front row. All this was just the second song. It was magical, romantic, theatrical, soulful.
The Set List:
“The Golden Key”
The Opposite of Hallelujah
“Argument with Myself”
The End of The World Is Bigger Than Love
And I Remember Every Kiss
Your Arms Around Me
“Nothing At All”
“A song about Google street maps”
A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill
You In My Arms
Sipping on the Sweet Nectar
A Postcard To Nina
Pocketful of Money
Fast forward to 11.30pm. About 30-40 hardy souls are on street waiting for the promised ‘open air’ set. Jens came out and the faithful trooped after him into Sand Bar. Ashley the manager provided one of the back-rooms and as people grabbed seats, benches and spots on the floor, Jens played five songs on acoustic guitar.
The fourth of these was ‘Silvia’. He started strumming but over this told the story of how he had a poster on his teenage bedroom wall of said Queen of Sweden – but when he grew up he realised she was just an “old conservative bitch”. Having set the scene of this innocent but doomed infatuation he recommenced the song. Only to interrupt it later to tell the tale of how his mother broke it to him that his childhood memory of meeting Silvia was false - but he kept it in song anyway (“do you know what they do to celebrities who lie?”). In a quietly intimate way it was as theatrical as the earlier song – but also witty, touching and utterly heart-breaking.
The Set List @ Sand Bar:
You Are The Light
Tram Number Seven to Heaven
Kanske Ar Jag Kar i Dig
A lock-in with Jens then followed. But by this point I was heady on the music alone and made my way home. I hope this tells you all need to know: if you ever get the chance to see Jens Lekman live, do not miss it. A poet of heart-break, an amusing story-teller and an exceptional performer.