REVIEW: Jens Lekman at Brighton Music Hall (3/15)

There’s a classic anecdote about a man that seeks out a doctor for advice on treating depression.

After hearing out the man’s isolation and struggles, the doctor tells him to start treatment by seeing a great clown in town that evening. The man tears up, looking down as he says, “But doctor, I am the clown.”

Before any angry Watchmen fans attack the comment section, the story is most famously framed as a joke Rorschach tells of the clown Pagliacci, but the basic framework existed even earlier with European clown Grock acting as “the clown” in the early 1900s. In any case, if a modernization is in order, it might be worth replacing “European clown” with “prolific Swedish twee pop singer/songwriter/occasional wedding singer” if we’re considering Jens Lekman for the rewrite.

Lekman has spent nearly two decades capturing hyper-specific moments of Swedish winters, slicing his finger open in a kitchen prank gone wrong, acting as a beard for a friend upon meeting her ultra-religious father, and the existence (or lack thereof) of love more than a few times at this point. No matter how dire, absurd, or darkly funny a Jens Lekman story gets, the situation is often buoyed with a swarm of strings, world music samples, and bubbly guitars.

Still, as a long time fan of Jens’, a certain over-protectiveness of him formed and the five year wait between 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t and this year’s Life Will See You Now became more worrisome than anticipatory. Interviews detailing his slight disappointment in Love, half-full venues of “fans” just waiting for the hits, and taking up work as a wedding singer seemed starkly personal even by Jens standards, but Life has the capability of being regarded as either his most pop-centric record or his most personal yet depending on who you ask.

If anything, openers Lisa/Liza’s atmospheric folk served as an achingly beautiful red herring to the rest of the night. Singer/guitarist Liza Victoria’s warble already carried the weight of wintry blues before she mentioned having to drive through the blizzard with the band earlier this week, even as trucks pulled off the road around them.

Although opening and closing on a similarly somber, acoustic note (“To Know Your Mission” and “The Cold Swedish Winter” respectively), Lekman’s set around Life aimed to live up to its name with one of the most life-giving productions I’ve seen all year.

Bringing his backing band on one-by-one to perform recent single “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”, Lekman assembled a harmonizing, giddily dancing band in keyboardist Emelie Odelberg, drummer Julia Ivansson, and bassist Hanna Westberg. After Lekman soberly introduced “Evening Prayer” as a song about friends with cancer, the four piece managed to bring the album version’s disco vocalizations to new, surprisingly uplifting heights. Segueing songs with Chairmen of The Board samples and mock-proposing to an audience member at the requisite point of “I Know What Love Isn’t”, Lekman himself seemed to be flexing his wedding singer status to a playful extreme, relishing the sold out crowd’s loud singalongs to the month-old Life songs.

Closing the set pre-encore to album closer “Dandelion Seed” provided a moment of meditative reflection for the band, letting the raucous Brighton Music Hall mellow with string samples. Lekman’s eyes remained closed, but a thin smile formed as the crowd interrupted to beg for more songs.

While there are plenty of disconnects, miscommunications, and hearts left precariously on sleeves in Lekman’s lyricism, Lekman himself appeared far less like the eternally emotional songwriter on Wednesday night and more like the celebrated performer that he’s practically always been, unable to stop smiling even in a moment of meditation.

For more photos from the show, check out our gallery below.