The Honeydrips' Mikael Carlsson not playing guitar, though backed up by laptop.
A crooner of idealized loves and commonplace countretemps, Jens Lekman handily endeared the UW Music Hall's full house Sunday night. It was proof that his pop aesthetic increasingly written off as "precious," a close relation to the maligned "twee" deserves its praise.
Although last year's Night Falls Over Kortedala made quite a few "best" lists, it garnered predictable backlash. Many critics found its sample heavy production and romantic schmaltz too syrupy sweet for serious consideration. Sunday night's performance demonstrated that the "preciousness" of Jens Lekman is worthwhile and exceptionally well suited to the live setting.
Jens started the night alone onstage with the uncharacteristically downbeat "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You." The song began with Jens a capella in his confident tenor a strength he would frequently display and built to a full orchestration as the band processed onstage.
It was a handsome quintet of bass, drums, samples (i.e., "buttons and silly stuff"), and cello that included Madison's own Marla Hansen on violin and backing vocals. The five musicians created heartbreaking swells to accompany this dramatic lament of hopeless irreconcilability.
The band then seamlessly transitioned to the upbeat "The Opposite of Hallelujah" as Jens moved smoothly from guitar to keys. Bandmate Viktor Sjoberg, running a table of gizmos, smartly sampled Chairman of the Board's "Give Me Just A Little More Time" at a key moment to lift the heights of song even higher. The Motown reference served to highlight the finger-snapping, spirit lifting tradition Jens charismatically continues in the indie realm.
Jens banter was just as crowd pleasing. His deadpan narratives focused on the inspirations for his songs, including growing up in a roach motel like Swedish suburb ("Need Directions"). The stage patter was nicely integrated with the music, keeping the show moving at a brisk pace. The wit and calculation of the banter embraced old-school showmanship, and the crowd clearly enjoyed Jens' very un-indie-like look back to vaudeville and beyond.
The encore began with a lively version of "A Sweet Summer's Night" -- a standout from the excellent You're So Silent, Jens from 2005 that finally brought the jubilant crowd front and center. He plucked the kalimba for "A Little Lost," the cover he did for the Four Songs By Arthur Russell, an EP Jens also compiled.
Jens Lekman closed as he opened, alone. Playing guitar for "Heart on Fire," he also orchestrated the claps, snaps and voices of the engaged audience. Jens does have a penchant for sweet stuff, but his show Sunday revealed that you miss a lot by being caught up by "precious" bugaboo. In the right hands, in the right context, even preciousness can be richly entertaining.
The opener had ridiculously little of the charisma of his fellow Swede. Mikael Carlsson's one man band the Honeydrips put out a nice album of synth pop with the recent Here Comes the Future. However, he did little in performance to convey its merits. Adorned with a guitar he would never play (Jens may have just loaned it to him to hide behind), he absentmindedly swayed and sang with a fey and occasionally flat voice to the backing tracks on his laptop nearby.
The audience watched as Mikael intently listened to the canned music, causing more than a few titters. He came across as a nervous grade schooler lost and out of place at a karaoke bar. The performance was enlivened only when a frenetic bat began swooping down from the rafters of the old hall at the audience.