“Jens Lekman? He’s so two years ago.” The dismissive response I heard at a party a few nights before still stung my ears as I entered the eerily half-empty Wonder Ballroom. I am a big fan of the Swedish singer, still swooning over a magical solo performance of “Pocketful of Money” from DC’s Black Cat (see video below) from a few years back. True, Lekman has not released a new album since 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, but does something have to be current or brand new to retain relevance?
A mostly female band had accompanied Lekman at the few previous shows I had attended, so to see a stripped down ensemble of bass, violin, drums and Viktor Sjoberg twiddling on the prerecorded panel was something new. But Lekman appeared pale, perching himself on a chair. He was sick, claiming to have almost canceled the show but it being Portland and a Saturday night kept him from doing so (he would later go on to contract swine flu). Unfortunately, he would have to play seated. He introduced the first song as one about “destroying all the bullshit and the lies so we can move on.” He then began Kortedala’s “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” which then segued into “The Opposite of Hallelujah.”
If he had not announced his illness, it would have been impossible to tell something ailed Lekman. True, he sat for most of the set, but his voice seemed fine and his trademark goofy smile played across his face. When he announced the “old classic” “Black Cab,” the crowd shouted and sang along. “Your Arms Around Me” was appropriately sweet with its syrupy strings section and even had the audience harmonize with him on “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig.”
Besides the smaller band, not much differed from the shows I saw around Kortedala’s release. Lekman interspersed the same tale of indentured deception during “A Postcard to Nina,” though taking a moment to make a dig at California and Prop 8. As the performance wound to its conclusion, Lekman stood and began to dance. “I’m feeling a lot better now. Thanks for curing me.” He finished his first set with “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar.”
If I do have one complaint of a Jens Lekman show, it’s his use of prerecorded music. Maybe it’s a safety device or he thinks it fleshes out the songs, but I actually find his stuff more appealing when it’s organic. Call me a purist, and I don’t want to knock Sjoberg out of a job, but the moments without the prerecorded stuff just feel more genuine.
The band returned for a rousing rendition of the raucous “A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill.” The chair had been cast to the side and Lekman fully integrated himself into the song’s swinging rhythm. After he announced he would do one more song “before I start coughing blood.” He explained he would have to kneel since the song is about the Queen of Sweden, someone he thought a goddess as a child but now an “old, conservative bitch.” He then did a solo rendition of “Silvia” from his first album When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog. Jens, you don’t need the prerecorded stuff. You play solo just fine! He then thanked us again for curing him, bowed and exited the stage for a much-deserved respite.
[Photos: Eduardo Rocha]