When we tried to get the Most Endearing Swedish Pop Darling of Them All to play Northside last year, we were told that Jens Lekman had decided to never play in New York City again. I sort of didn't believe it, figuring his booking agent was dramatically brushing us off, but, sure enough, before launching into new single "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love" last night at his first New York show in years, he told us a story: He once thought this city was for lovers and dreamers, but living here for two years essentially sent him running, disenchanted and broken. "I thought I'd never play here again, but, hopefully, [tonight] will start to change that." I like to think it did.
Located at the end of a brownstone-lined block in Carroll Gardens, the Green Union Building looks like a renovated camping lodge, à la The Bell House: exposed brick, candle lanterns, chandeliers, a cathedral ceiling made from dark wood. Considering the dress and general level of attractiveness of those inside last night, it could've passed as the site for the J. Crew winter catalog shoot, but its coziness trumped any air of elitism and it felt like Jens was playing for a group of friends. Eyes closed, head nodding, he strummed away at his guitar in a pool of purple light while a guy named Charlie provided minimal drums and harmonies. With just the two of them, songs were pared down and subdued — a baby step towards the fully-orchestrated-with-female-back-up-singers-dressed-in-white shows of yesteryear. His voice sounded spot on though, building from fragile to full on "Black Cab" while still letting the audience have their way with the "goddamn, goddamn" part, and appropriately aching on a still, hushed rendition of "And I Remember Every Kiss" to close the night.
No one really goes to see Jens Lekman for his voice though. They go because he talks about how he lost his dignity and stalked Kirsten Dunst while she was shooting a film in his hometown of Gothenberg, "just as any Swedish man who grew up in a suburb next to a potato chip factory would," and then sings a bouncy little number full of rhymes called "Waiting for Kirsten." Or they go because they want to mimic the sound of his heart ("bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp!") during "A Sweet Summer's Night in Hammer Hill." Or because he coyly, adorably points out that he's wearing a gold key around his neck (and is also selling them at the merch table) before playing a sad-eyed song about lying to people about why you wear a key around your neck, ashamed to say that the real reason might be because of a girl... a song that eventually turns into "Opposite of Hallelujah," at which point he arms himself with a tambourine and steps away from the mic to dance. Charlie starts playing a sporadic tribal drum beat, the audience goes crazy, and Jens traces a heart in the air. "He's such a romanic," sighed the girl to my left. This is an understatement.
Video courtesy elinaisgod via YouTube
Um, also, the tiny print that maybe I shouldn't say: I walked right in, with no one asking me for a ticket or checking my name on the guest list. He plays at the same venue tonight.