Jens Lekman Stays Quiet and Pretty Amid the Noise at Cal Academy of Sciences
Jens Lekman at the Cal Academy of Sciences last night.
Sept. 29, 2011
California Academy of Sciences
Better than: Listening to someone blast really annoying music through their headphones when you're trying to talk to someone on Muni.
Happily, Jens Lekman's voice really does sound like that in person. The Swedish (indie?) pop singer, renowned in his home country and a beloved cult figure here, appeared on a modest stage in the East Garden at the Cal Academy of Sciences last night equipped with only a parlor guitar, a drummer, and a drum machine. While this meant mostly tossing out the lush orchestral arrangements that frame much of his music, that was fine: Lekman's supernaturally delicate and nimble voice (and chatty lyrics) are the centerpiece of these songs, anyway. And he was not shy about launching up into the higher registers, subdoing many in the crowd (we saw wet eyes, making out, heated looks, etc.) with the dulcet tones he found up there.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the crowd came to hear Lekman and that magical voice: His set was part of the regular Thursday Nightlife series at the Academy, and thus attracted many who seemed to prefer their own beery rambling over any of the delicate Swedish pop on offer.
These intoxicated conversations reflected up off the patio's ceiling and its glass walls, causing a sharp conflict at times between the music -- which often included some of Lekman's quietest material -- and the audience. During a stripped-down version of crowd favorite "Black Cab," we witnessed a brief confrontation: One guy who clearly came to hear Lekman was standing behind two other guys talking loudly over the music and shouting between songs for Lekman to play "Maple Leaves." Guy No. 1 asked to move ahead of them, and the dude-bros looked really offended. It didn't keep them from resuming their conversation though.
Despite many pleas from the audience -- including a comically boneheaded shout of "Play 'Maple Leaves', bro!" during the encore -- Jens never did play that beloved single from early in his recording career. But he offered a fair sampling of his music. There were songs off the latest EP of course, including "Waiting for Kirsten," a song nominally about stalking Kirsten Dunst when she came to Lekman's hometown of Gothenburg, but really about Swedish culture. Lekman goes to find Dunst -- who once professed in an interview to be a fan of his -- at a club, only to discover that she couldn't get in because the club was full. The chorus of the song goes, "In Gothenburg we don't have VIP Lines/ In Gothenburg we don't make a fuss about who you are."
As he did with many of the songs, Lekman introduced "Waiting for Kirsten" by telling the story that inspired the song. Curiously, he often did this using exactly the same words that latter appear in the song, which we find cute but apparently annoyed some people in the audience.
You simply can't play "The Opposite of Hallelujah" with only a guitar and drums, so Jens pressed a few buttons on his drum machine and almost magically summoned an entire string ensemble and a piano for the song, which drew huge cheers from the crowd. He feigned that that would be the last of the night, but came back for a bunch more: A cover of Ten City's "That's the Way Love is," Lekman-fan favorite "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar," sad new break-up song "Every LIttle Hair Knows Your Name," and, finally, "And I Remember Every Kiss," despite the shouts of "Maple Leaves" going off around the audience. It was a reminder that even as pretty and delicate as Lekman's music is, it retains its own logic and order -- and he stayed in full control of it last night.
Improvements: The sightlines at Cal Academy this time were much better than when I saw Best Coast at the Cal Academy in August. At that show, no one except those in the front could see anything. I think there was a higher stage last night.
Argument with Myself
Waiting for Kirsten
A Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill
I Broke Up a Fight (?)
The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love
The Opposite of Hallelujah
That's the Way Love Is (Ten City cover)
Sipping on the Sweet Nectar
Every Little Hair Knows Your Name
And I Remember Every Kiss