The 42nd annual Waterfront Blues Festival started off with a bang July 2nd, as Gregg …
The pleasure of seeing Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman at one of his uncommon American shows on Friday was twofold: a humble showmanship and one of the richest live singing voices I’ve encountered in a few years.
Touring his first record in five years, Life Will See You Now (which came out last month on Secretly Canadian), Lekman led a backing trio through the jubilation of his new work and some reimaginings of old favorites. In suit coat and ball cap, he initially appeared alone onstage for acoustic versions of “To Know Your Mission,” “Evening Prayer” and “How Can I Tell Him” — three new songs that showcased his near-flawless tenor and the new kind of genuine interpersonal desire that dots his new album.
Lekman proved himself to be a crooner in a musical landscape where that word is used to describe anyone who savors vocals a bit. His voice rings out with a sustained, languid clarity somewhere between lounge and church singing. After the first three songs, the Portland crowd (which also hadn’t seen Lekman in a half-decade) was in such an applause frenzy that the musician couldn’t get his crowd banter started between songs. Touched and embarrassed by the hollering, Lekman took a beat and confessed in his low monotone, “I almost forgot it was a Friday night.”
At that point, his all-Swedish trio of drummer, keyboardist and bassist joined him for the crowd-pleasers, most especially “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” from 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala. Lekman left the chorus to the crowd, and it obliged every time. It was during this song that the frontman began to prance with his tambourine, shaking it delicately upward at the conclusion of the song like an infant dove he was attempting to let fly for the first time. That kind of half-joking theatricality appeared again during a slowed-down version of “I Know What Love Isn’t,” when the singer took a knee to mock propose to someone in the front row while singing the lines: “Let’s get married / I’m serious / but only for the citizenship / I always liked the idea of it.” For the vast majority of the full band’s time on stage, the Revolution Hall crowd stood and swayed in the kind of self-conscious way Lekman himself might if there were 300 of him in the crowd.
A pair of encores saw Lekman introducing “A Postcard to Nina” with a beautiful political wink. A crowd favorite, the 2007 song is a delightful farce in which Jens pretends to be the boyfriend of his friend Nina so her father will get off her back about her sexuality. “These are troubled times; don’t let anyone stand in your way,” Lekman said, mimicking the encouraging refrain that concludes the song. He charmed one last time when he appeared solo for a second encore, saying, “I do have one more song I want to play for you,” as though he had forgotten he meant to play “Pocketful of Money,” a smoldering lust (not love) song from one of his early EPs. His admirers snapped along the entire time, heartfelt human percussion as the Swede romantically sent off the night.»
– Chance Solem-Pfeifer