[live review] Jens Lekman @ the Somerville Armory

It was a veritable 7-UP for the ears. Sweet and sour, lymon even. The sweetness of course was provided by English-singing Swedish songwriter JENS LEKMAN, who seemed to drop out of nowhere into the lap of Somerville’s Armory; not the usual spot one would expect to see one of the brightest Scandinavian exports, but fitting in its own nice-boy-at-the-community-center kind of way. The sourness came from Australia’s Geoffrey O’Connor (of the Crayon Fields), who "warmed-up" the lovey-dovey crowd of grown-up indie kids (yes there was floor-sitting, and even feet-dangling from the balcony like stray dandelions) with his solo-act of arid, minimalist pop songs.

O’Connor’s pre-recorded backing tracks (with live guitar) stood in still contrast to the street-corner warmth of Lekman’s two-man acoustic guitar/drummer act (the first nod to spiritual Godfather, Jonathan Richman). But even as O’Connor’s thread-bare, art-house shtick reached near Sprockets levels (holding the mic as passively as a hair-brush, head tilted to the side, Casio drum presets plodding over the sound system), I couldn’t help but note that every single damned song plucked from his September debut Vanity is Forever was good. Taking on an solo act with such a detached demeanor may have been a ballsy move, but the same sort of romantic recklessness resides in O’Connor’s waifish melodies (think Lloyd Cole/Felt/Go-Betweens) as in Lekman’s — only from the other end of the spectrum.

Then after some punch and cupcakes (just kidding, there was amazing beer!), Lekman and his drummer Addison Rogers put the audience’s tickers in the heart-charger for the next hour and a half. While the singer hasn’t released an album since 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, Saturday’s show came just weeks after the release of Lekman’s An Argument With Myself EP; the first significant release in four years. Lekman sang the title track from this EP, a cleverly natural and rambling piece that sets inner-dialogue to music; as well as “Waiting for Kirsten,” a funny account of the night that Lekman tried to orchestrate a "chance meeting" with Kirsten Dunst when she happened to be staying in a hotel near his home town. “In Gothenburg we don't have VIP lines,” explains Lekman in song. No line-cutting means that Dunst can’t cut the line to get into her own party, filling the singer with both utter sadness and joy.

With heavy doses of the sentimental, the autobiographical, the topical and the comical in his music, it comes as a little surprise that Lekman didn’t make a comment about playing in Jonathan Richman’s original stomping grounds. But although songs like “A Sweet Summer Night on Hammer Hill” take big nicks from Richman’s song-book (“Walter Johnson”), Lekman intellectualizes and sings with a grace and clarity that set him apart. He’s never goofy and you he’s always composed. You never feel like you’re watching a cabaret act. If the feeling of attention in the audience was any indication, Lekman ‘classics’ (if we can call them that after two proper albums) like “Black Cab” and the sing-along “Pocketful of Money” showcased the singer’s piercing, brooding romantic nature. Meanwhile, songs from his alleged-forthcoming album (such as “Every Little Hair Knows Her Name” and “I Broke Up A Fight”) hint at a promise that Lekman is moving further and further out of pop and deeper into the precision of his own lyrics.

And then it was over as magically as it started. Lekman walked off stage into a green hot air balloon and floated away. Grabbing a milk-shake on the way from a diner in the sky, on his way back to sunny Sweden.

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