Jens Lekman w/ Geoffrey O'Connor
By Andrew Hall | 21 October 2011
While Jens Lekman’s new EP, An Argument With Myself, is his highest-fi outing yet, with all but one sample removed in favor of the biggest and most ambitious arrangements he’s crafted to date, his tour supporting its songs saw him reduced to acoustic guitar, with percussion and backing vocals courtesy of Bloomington scene fixture Addison Rogers. There was also a sampler, but it largely sat unused as he reworked a dozen or so songs, both old and new, into a warm and intimate performance in one of the best-sounding rooms in Seattle.
The Columbia City Theater was a perfect space for Lekman’s performance, as though the show sold out completely over a month in advance, it never felt even the slightest bit crammed even when at capacity; its sightlines remain intact and the sound doesn’t come out muffled and muddy like it often does at other venues here (looking at you, Neptune). Though he often performs with large backing bands designed to recreate the sounds in his head and on his records, his stripped down performance for a small but reverent audience gave huge amounts of open space for his jokes, patient ears over to new songs, and a sense that everyone in the room, performers included, were basically feeling the same thing.
He opened with a new song, tentatively titled “Description,” and elicited chuckles from the moment he finished its first line, “I’m a forty-two year old woman.” From there, he got laughs from literally hitting himself in the face toward the end of “An Argument With Myself,” from the turns of phrase that make “Waiting For Kirsten” equally laugh-out-loud funny and utterly scathing, and from the bridge of a new song called “I Broke Up A Fight” in which he explains how his attempt to break up a fight between a group of people turned completely pathetic. His new ballads cut hit just as hard in other ways, with “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots” prompting hushed admiration following his description of the song being about what happens “when you have the same dream 730 nights in a row.”
However, after so many hushed numbers, he performed another new song, “Golden Key,” which then transformed through a sampler assist into “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” and returned to perform a texturally gorgeous cover of “That’s The Way Love Is” by Chicago deep house group Ten City with accompaniment from Geoffrey O’Connor, who also opened this tour. O’Connor’s set worked through much of his new record, Vanity is Forever, which sees him depart from his more Elephant 6-inspired indie pop work with Crayon Fields and as Sly Hats to instead experiment with synthesizer and drum machine-driven arrangements. Largely freed from hardware and thus having to stand in a single place, O’Connor’s performance saw him move across the entirety of the small stage, projecting his new songs as physically as possible as he let his microphone stay suspended from his arm as he took a guitar solo or climbed atop the PA on stage left, a move which immediately prompted applause perhaps because it comes so unexpectedly from a musician like him. His thin tenor contrasts sharply with Lekman’s increasingly rich baritone, but the duo complemented each other wonderfully, impressing an audience largely unfamiliar with O’Connor’s work.
For his final encore, Lekman shared “And I Remember Every Kiss,” doing away with the Enoch Light-sampling instrumentation in favor of the guitar and voice treatment, trading its bombast for something closer to a devotional, and then made entirely good on this idea by playing “Pocketful of Money,” which turns religious when he plays it to a crowd willing to sing the song’s Calvin Johnson sample with no coaxing whatsoever for almost eight minutes. And, surprisingly, it was just as stunning as it was the first time I saw him pull this trick four years ago after hearing him realize Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007) with the accompaniment of a seven-piece backing band. Though we only got a few tastes of the songs that will make up his new album, which he plans to release early next year, and I would’ve had no qualms with him playing another hour, I can’t help but acknowledge that like few composers with similar working methods, Lekman’s songs are far greater than the sum of their parts.