(Photo: Christopher Sikich)
There is a certain harmony between the past and the present that sometimes makes me feel a linear view of time is complete bunk. Then again, live musical acts, especially for musicians who have toured for years, possess a special sleight of hand that makes you feel like this one specific performance of that one specific song is the most special, most meaningful ever. We lose ourselves, willfully forget that the performer has played this song before and will play it again. But for that one moment, it’s heartful, special and unique.
Then there’s the quirks, the unplanned instances that can take a show somewhere different, small deviations and X-factors that no one can plan for. A few years ago, Jens Lekman played Portland’s Wonder Ballroom awash with a fever. He claimed that he had to sit on a stool or else he might lose his balance. Despite feeling awful, he turned in an inspired performance, rising towards the show’s end, thanking us and claiming that we had “cured him.” As a piece of theatrical art, it rivaled James Brown limping off the stage, hidden under a cape. Yet, this was unscripted and totally earnest.
One of my most magical concert experiences happened at a Lekman show years ago in Washington, D.C. After an excellent set, Lekman returned without his band and played a version of “Pocketful of Money” where he got the audience to snap and sing along. Even though this is a typical ending to a Lekman show, something synchronized in the room that evening and it felt like something special. Therefore, it was.
I waffled on seeing Jens Lekman when he came to town earlier this month. The night before, I reaggravated a concussion, which left me feeling woozy, seasick and depressed. “Concussions are no joke,” Lekman’s publicist cautioned, giving me an out for the evening. It would be a seated show, I figured, with no danger of a mosh pit. I could handle two hours of gentle music, and besides, that new song “To Know Your Mission” was stuck in my head.
It has been a few years since Lekman last played Portland, and when he took the stage he seemed older and gaunter with a shaved head. But does anyone in indie rock have a smile as sweet as this guy? He kicked off with a short solo set featuring songs from new album Life Will See You Now, including “To Know Your Mission.” I’ve always preferred Lekman’s music without all the electronic trappings, and the sadness that exists in the seams was more evident on “Evening Prayer” and “How Can I Tell Him.”
The party started soon after. Lekman’s all-female band joined him, and when the lush sample of “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar” kicked in, the audience rose to its feet and began to dance. The rest of the 16-song set alternated between new tracks (“Hotwire the Ferris Wheel,” “Our First Fight”) and old favorites (“The Opposite of Hallelujah,” a slowed-down version of “Black Cab”). The energy in the room was infectious and I soon found myself standing and dancing, concussion forgotten.
Lekman rewarded his fans with two encores, the first featuring full-band renditions of “Maple Leaves” and “A Postcard to Nina,” the second a solo version of “Pocketful of Money.” Though it was not as special as the D.C. evening, Lekman’s emotional performance took me back there, to that moment years and years ago.
Thank you! You cured my concussion, Jens Lekman.