As early as early shows get, an 8 p.m. start for any is early. Sweden’s Taken by Trees, fronted by Victoria Bergsman, former lead singer of the Concretes, started well before the advertised 8 p.m. start, which I unfortunately missed.
If only they could have had patience like Jens Lekman.
It took Lekman five years to come out with an album to follow 2007’s critically praised Night Falls Over Kortedala. As he returns to the limelight, this time with an album titled I Know What Love Isn’t, it’s clear that those five years weren’t wasted, but were spent living and gaining experience that reflects in his most mature release yet. What the Swedish songwriter brought to the older-than-average crowd at Venue was an earnest and humble invitation into his life, whether it’s the way you see him, or the way he still sees himself sometimes: a potato chip factory boy.
Playing the bulk of his new album, he went through song after song about failures and resentments in love. As it turns out, I Know What Love Isn’t is a heartbreak album, if you couldn’t have guessed so from its title. However, what saves this album from being merely a collection of melodramatic sulking by a 30 year old Swede is the wit with which each song is crafted, and all the amusing, self-critical and very real anecdotes that turn his songs into moments you imagine too well. As he played, he filled the spaces between tunes with stories from his own life, and very often stories behind the anecdotes in his songs. In some, he effectively retold the gist of the song, yet in a way that exposed the bare honesty of his songwriting. Whether it’s about being cornered into playing the role of a boyfriend for a pen-pal’s conservative father in “Postcard to Nina,” or stalking Kirsten Dunst in a hotel lobby in his native Gothenburg in “Waiting for Kirsten,” Jens didn’t miss a chance to poke fun at himself, and never forgot the potato chip factory he grew up next to.
With a full backing band, he attained a full sound that kept him in the spotlight, while his band members contributed a somewhat goofy presence that was just a djembe player short of reincarnating the Talking Heads, especially with his Tina Weymouth-lookalike bassist. Of course, the setting couldn’t escape the use of electronics, and the flamboyant flutes and horns of his intricately produced songs came from a box at the singer’s fingertips. Backed his drum machine’s world rhythms, the set closed with a medley of his upbeat songs, showing he could make his audience dance just as well as relive their deepest romantic woes. To my surprise, Lekman came back for two encores, with just his guitar to back him as he sang “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name,” the mellow, longing ballad, ending things exactly where he started.