Tonight, Mr Jens Lekman. Tomorrow, Mr Jens Lekman
Written By Michael Wood Friday, May 16th, 2008
Jens Lekman and Jayman at The Cluny/TJ's Woodhouse Grove Liberal Club, Newcastle/Leeds
"If you have videoed tonight - which is fine with me," says Jens Lekman after an enthralling night at The Cluny in Newcastle "then do not put it on the Internet or on YouTube because I want this night to be between you and me."
Jens Lekman is an honest man in what is a dishonest industry.
Every night on stages across the world artists pour souls into the same unique displays that they give the night before and will give tomorrow. This suits some performers and but not others and Lekman - following his path of attempting to not play the same venue in the same town every time he visits - is uncomfortable with the four month touring fatigue he and his five musicians are trying to avoid. "If there is a button to press, a rope to pull, then do it" he tells his band.
He wants every night to be special, unique, individual and for two nights in Newcastle and Leeds - fulfilling a long time curious interest of mine - I will be watching both gigs.
The cluny on the banks of the Tyne on the way to Byker in Newcastle is a superb venue. The horseshoe shape of the bar that turns into split level stage and watching balcony not only affords a great area to watch bands but also has a decent place to eat and drink.
The effect of this is a location that - to the casual observer - does not have to make it's money through what is on stage and can survive as a pub. A look down the list of forthcoming events empathises this with a collection of the esoteric such as Lekman coming to the North East in the next few months.
New York songstress Jaymay is on first and as the bright evening is beginning to fade she takes to the waist high stage that is overlooked from the left and begins to storytell. Her guitar picks and strums a pattern behind her stories of love and loss in New York City.
She sings songs with rich textures, each is distinctive and each pushes back against the folk scene that would want to swallow up singer/songwriter girls who play guitar - she was dubbed "anti-folk" at one point - and it is not hard to see why Lekman is touring with her when she starts each song with an antidote or story about it's conception.
"Jens' audience is so polite" she comments before detailing the genus of Ill-Willed Person - her stand out song and the story of not wanting to be friends with the ex of an ex. "Love everything you always loved" is a charming sentiment and Jaymay has succeeded in charming those watching with an honest connection between song and singer. Between story and stage. It is warmth.
In Leeds the night that follows she has changed her top - I did but spilt coffee on the replacement so am back in a Pantone 292 t-shirt - and changed the set list.
The Leeds audience start in the far off drinking area of a Working Men's Club before approaching the stage slowly in a way that must be reminiscent of the zombies in Dawn of the Dead and while they crowd the stage they are more reserved and emotionally seem more distant.
The same set list Jaymay scribed while waiting near the bar at The Cluny sits next to her chair at the front of the stage but she soon begins to move from it and throws in The Tragedy Song which features a sing-a-long chorus and some audience foot stamping and I wonder if this is because she felt more connected to last night's people and could fore-go the gimmicks or if she felt closer tonight and thus could have more fun. Perhaps the groundhog day nature of touring demands that you change at least one thing a day.
The last time I saw Jens Lekman he was accompanied by a percussionist in a church in Leeds. In Newcastle now he stands on the stage with a laptop user/DJ type person as his small figure in the centre of the stage begins his most sombre song. I Am Leaving Because I Don't Love You sees the Swede push out two heartbreaking verses before he is attacked on stage with an array of chellists, violin players, drummers and bassists who are his band and it becomes clear that tonight will not be a repeat of Leeds 2007.
Curious hardly covers Lekman the performer. He has the same kind of magnetic charisma that a Morrissey or a Jarvis Cocker has which pushes a brittle confidence and a self-depreciation into his gigs. He tells us about Kortedala - the suburb of Stockholm he has lived in - where he was beaten up and mugged "constantly" and he seems pathetic but his eyes shine out as he plays honest and beautiful songs. The ode to his hairdresser from Kortedala Shirin has tears dwelling in eyes.
And there are works of power and majesty. Streamed from a cello and driven by a powerful bass Black Cab once again inspires awe and surpasses the original and new song New Directions shows an continued ebullience. Lekman at these points is as Jarvis is on Common People or the Morrissey of Death of a Disco Dancer as he takes a captious view at life putting himself above all and finding all wanting.
Last time he played the North East Jens Lekman was at The Sage in Gateshead. "Now I am in Newcastle, this is a difference that is important" he intones sweetly as he continues his set that concludes when his band depart the stage and he is left clicking his fingers in accompaniment of Pocketful of Money and the clicking leads to Lekman asking all assembled to whistle the hook which leads to deep voiced Geordies backing the singer in a moment of spontaneous, disarming, wonderful improvisation.
Lekman is moved. He asks us not to share, he goes for a walk by the Tyne. He is on stage in Leeds 22 hours later and things are different. The storming of the stage is gone and the beginning is moved to the centre of the set.
"The last time I was here I played in a church didn't I?" he asks to confirmations. "I thought it was here" he noodles as he continues. The depths of Woodhouse Liberal Club are far from full - a disappointing turn out - and the atmosphere slips away a little but still Lekman is the focus of all around him. Maple Leaves is received with rapture Leeds but I'm Leaving... seems to hang around the room more begging to be plucked from the air.
The repetitious nature of night on night performance is obvious. Postcard To Nina comes with a narrative which he uses to parody the repartition. "Tell that story again Jens. I've Told It So Many Times... Yeah but just once more..." "Tell it again Jens cause last time was in Gateshead and this is Newcastle..."
Perhaps a less honest performer can work this kind of enforced duplicity better but Lekman - as with Jarvis Cocker during his two date stay in Sheffield two years ago - is exposed for all and the soul of the performance comes from each carved, honest, beautiful song.
Written By Michael Wood Friday, May 16th, 2008
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