Jens Lekman at Whelans, Dublin, 22nd of November 2012
It’s Jens Lekman’s second time playing Dublin—that he can remember, anyway. Tonight, the venue is Whelans, his favourite, considering it’s the only one he’s played. Someone shouts out another, “I don’t remember it”, he dismisses, like the idea he was ever here performing against his knowledge is entirely plausible.
The format of tonight’s show is a structured affair, with a set dedicated to the Swede’s latest album, ‘I Know What Love Isn’t’, in its entirety, followed by a second set of plucked and remixed tracks from the back catalogue—after which he’ll matter-of-factly offer to stick around and belt out any requests. Doesn’t everybody do that?
The gentle strumming of Erica America opens the set. Backed by a four-piece band, Lekman holds his guitar particularly high on his chest, donning a simple black cap and matching blazer. Like an old-fashioned schoolboy, you almost feel complete empathy for the puppy-dog nonchalance as he croons Become Someone Else’s, eyes shut and swaying. But don’t feel too sorry. Blues tone a light-hearted rendition of I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots, a surreal track about a dream you keep having that doesn’t particularly bring much sense or enjoyment. Witty lyrics bounce from behind particularly poignant instrumentals, weaving themselves around the hushed tone of Whelans.
Then there’s, ‘love’. Forget the heartbroken, Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder is dedicated to the heartbreakers themselves, while I Know What Love Isn’t follows a story about almost marrying his friend for citizenship in Australia. He liked the sterile, purposeful reason to marry, outside of affection alone. The only thing stopping him was that he couldn’t write about it as it’s illegal. How can such romantic riffs chase such unashamedly cynical views of love? Very easily. But as the band leave the stage for the brief intermission, Lekman reminds us of his vulnerable side with a solo performance of Every Little Hair Knows Your Name under spotlight. With it, brings a soothing end to the first part of an enjoyable set, but lax in retrospect of what was to come.
Set two is where he truly shines, dipping into material from ‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’ and ‘Oh You’re So Silent Jens’. Whereas mopey Morrissey made an appearance beforehand, the deadpan humour and Paul Simonesque quips of An Argument With Myself lifts the room who were perhaps tempted to lull. Guiding us through Melbourne’s business district, Lekman describes what we are seeing through interjections of the consuming lyrics. The pace is maintained with his band detonating an explosion of percussion, slowing down to a laid-back calypso jam as we pass the local ‘reggae night’.
The uplifting Opposite of Hallelujah is shown out with confetti and Lekman pointing to conjure meticulous bells. A few minutes later he’s hugging his guitar under a lone spotlight to see out a stripped-down version of Maple Leaves. It’s like being in the company of a kid crashing on sugar, only to bribe him with up again with a couple of pixie sticks. Into Eternity and a sparkling rendition of Sipping on the Sweet Nectar converts Whelans to a brief discotheque. With it, comes dodgy night fever dancing from the crowd while Lekman is content to run circles around the stage with his head down.
But calm down children, we’re not done with story-time. This time, it’s the prelude to Waiting for Kirsten, a song about Kirsten Dunst—supposed fan and object of his ‘manic stalking’ when she was filming in his nearby Gothenburg. But it’s not just about Dunst, it’s about his local club’s ability to treat patrons equally, but just hearing that context makes the song wholly engaging. Likewise with Postcard to Nina, a heartfelt letter to his lesbian friend who talks him into telling her father that they’re engaged to cover up her orientation. It’s a sweet and funny narrative, brought to life on stage with Jens stopping each instrument as an awkward silence with her father reaches deadly depths. Paced to perfection, the same audience showing off their Travolta moves minutes ago are now hanging on to his every word.
A short encore of Black Cab and he’s hopping off stage to chat to the crowd. While the first set blends to a beige, it’s the second half where he truly shines. Lekman is a great story-teller, but there’s only so much context that can be portrayed in an album. Not only does Lekman stand here before us—in real life—so does his album and the stories it contains. Even if he forgets his Dublin trip this time, we certainly won’t.
Jens Lekman Photo Gallery
Photos: Mark Earley