It’s a wintry Wednesday night in the South West, a teeming sky symbolising the cultural battle ahead. The dark and menacing clouds are the utter anti-fascination of the modern bourgeois sponsored music scene (adjective spot), the happy white sunlit ones alternate poems from the inspired Pop outsider. I take it all in with a deep breath, and whistle a tune of hope into the Bristol Carling Academy.
It’s 8pm now, and the place is filling with a mix of Pop kids here to see Jens Lekman and a slightly older element in anticipation of Josh Rouse. The Academy is a multi-tiered affair that reaches into the sky rather than sprawling itself out morosely into the background (as venues of this size usually do), but this redeeming factor is cancelled out by a negligible selection of drinks at the bar. However, as I stand there sorrowfully sipping on a sweet cola, a ray of light appears to take me away to better places.
Jens Lekman is the essence of modern Swedish Pop (don’t coin that term!), mining the sparkliest musical annals and making new shapes with modern poetry. He appears in a shocking English rose shirt that only the Outsider Prince himself could get away with, tells the crowd it’s okay to talk through his set, and kind of floats into the opening track, a glittering, slowed down version of Your Arms Around Me that’d cause the upwelling of tears if that kind of thing was allowed in here.
“Hello everyone, I’m Jens Lekman, I come from Gothenburg in Sweden, you are Bristol I presume, it’s very nice to meet you…” is his announcement to romantic guitar mood setting, and it’s a quaintly beautiful thing. Tonight Lekman is sans the band he had as accompaniment at the End of the Road festival in September, so in place of the pulsing instrumental orchestration we had then there’s a more downplayed grace. Sipping on the Sweet Nectar is a different kind of sumptuously romantic revolution than it is on record, slowed down as it has to be on these intricate occasions and living a life of poetic grandeur that’s so uplifting.
Jens is a fragile yet mischievous figure, like Woody Allen if he was a little more bashful and a little less neurotic. In short, if he was Swedish. He’s joined by a bongoist in a pretty dress for A Postcard To Nina, an affectionately rendered piece about posing as a girlfriend’s boyfriend so that her father won’t find out her true ways, and it has a great sense of awkward stand-up poetry set to music, Jens a heroically awkward figure as he dramatises his way through it.
Lekman comments on the fencing that strangely pens in some people in at the back, keeping them close to the bar, offering them the chance to molest him later when he walks among them, and the melancholy magic continues. Lekman’s voice is a wonderful thing, deep, unadorned and so soulfully expressive, and when the twinkling piano emerges in I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You it causes mild euphoria. Never has an automated piano sounded so good, joining our acoustic hero in pursuit of the stars.
Jens also uses vocal loops so that he can accompany himself on vocals, and as such it’s inevitable that there comes a point when the whole thing crashes around him like so much of a disaster. It’s a shame because it happens during the beautiful Opposite Of Hallelujah, yet okay maybe, because he can now show his disdain of the whole environment, whistling for a while, before forgetting the whole PA system, dismissing his bongoist and standing stage front for the final song, quite unconcerned that not many people can hear. This is pop dissidence in the best spirit, and Jens tonight is both a poetic poignancy and a running parody of industry domestication. The guy and his songs are rare treasures.