Jens Lekman, Hackney Empire, London
Swedish folk-pop minstrel Jens Lekman raises a glass of white wine – this is his 500th live show.
He may be a prolific performer, but he's taken his time in the studio: five years for the new album, I Know What Love Isn't. Many of those songs are of a love-lorn ilk, whether dedicated tonight to “anyone who's ever had their heart broken” ('The End of the World is Bigger than Love', delivered with suitably melodramatic keyboard chords and drenched in strings) or to “anyone who's had to break someone's heart” ('Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder', sloping dangerously towards lounge music with its saxophone samples).
If all this sounds a little maudlin or mawkish, rest assured Lekman's take on heartbreak is still suitably idiosyncratic. A master storyteller, he writes with a disarming, and often funny, candidness from his own life. There're songs about the time, hearing fan Kirsten Dunst was shooting a movie in his hometown of Gothenburg, he “manically [stalked] her through the night”; songs that free associate between bush-fires and break-ups, feeding possums and getting beaten up on his bike; songs about being unexpectedly forced to pretend to be your lesbian friend's boyfriend in front of her dad.
The album's title track, we're told, is even about nearly entering into a sham marriage with his buddy so he could live in Australia – till he realised that “I could never tell the story, and that doesn't really work if you're Jens Lekman.” Sure, he talks about himself in the third person, but that's just that storyteller in him – and you'll forgive almost anything of a man this charming. Not to mention sweet sounding: he's got a voice golden and syrupy enough to warrant a Tate & Lyle label.
There is one musical bugbear. On his records, Lekman supplements his acoustic guitar strumming with plinky keyboards, jaunty rhythms and strings – recreated here with a live band - but he also adds extra brass, flutes and xylophone (yes, it does veer into pretty cheesy territory, but with such joy that you forgive him that too).
When touring, sometimes Lekman just sings with a selection of these pre-recorded samples, but tonight he uses both backing tracks /and/ the live band, which sounds simply naff. And unnecessary – moments when they deviate from the records' arrangements, as on the terrific 'An Argument with Myself' when the band go wild on percussion, are among the most exhilarating.
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