Jens Lekman, Crescent Ballroom, 11/9/12

Jens Lekman @ Crescent Ballroom|11/9/12
Jens Lekman calls his songs "stories."

Introducing "I Know What Love Isn't," the title track from his 2012 LP, Lekman described driving around in a friend's crappy old car, listening to classic rock radio, and talking about "life, love, and things that that." He'd become interested in the idea of marriage with her so he could stay in Australia legally.

"But you couldn't tell anyone," Lekman said she told him, his Swedish accent deep and warm. "Which is kind of hard when you're Jens Lekman. So we didn't get married, and I wrote this song about it instead."

See also: Jens Lekman Knows What Love Isn't See also: Jens Lekman Studies the Science of Songwriting

Lekman's other stories are no less affecting or hilarious: the dutiful friend posing as lesbian friend's boyfriend so her German parents and "big and slow" Catholic God don't find her out in "A Postcard to Nina," an intended day at the beach turned into a bloody trip to the hospital in "Arms Around Me," stalking Kirsten Dunst in blue-collar Gothenburg, Sweden, in "Waiting for Kirsten," ruining a party and taking a sketchy cab home in "Black Cab."

They're not stories that ring so much true because they happened specifically to Lekman, though you get a sense they did, but because they are the sort of mini-tragic comedies that we all get ourselves into. They're true because they happen, almost in real time as Lekman struts about the stage and sings simply insightful lyrics like "I took my sister down to the ocean/but the ocean made me feel stupid."

The black comedy wit wouldn't go down as smooth if not for Lekman's arrangements. With an ace live band comprising a violnist, bassist, drummer, pianist, and Lekman on acoustic guitar, he augmented the live sounds with expert samples, dropping in crashing breakbeats into "Maple Leaves," snippets of General Johnston's vocal from the Chairmen of the Board classic "Give Me Just a Little More Time," and the big brassy bursts during "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar."

Wearing a short-brimmed cap and nattily dressed in a black suit, Lekman was affable and energetic. He splashed confetti on the crowd, and mimicked the high-flying video of "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar" by extending his arms and "airplaning" around the stage.

Like other songwriters that employ such vivid, cinematic approaches, say John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats or Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, Lekman often crams a lot of detail in to each song. But he never sacrifices musical profundity in the process, and is always as willing to let a funky bassline or twinkling piano say as much as he does.

"I've always loved in my storytelling -- and in my songs -- that you can sing about something that is quite bad, but you can use a happy tune to sing it," Lekman tells Eric Swedlund in this week's New Times feature. "That has a very interesting effect. I've always loved that balance."

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Jens Lekman and Taken By Trees @ Crescent Ballroom The Crowd: A nice mix of NPR listeners and Urban Outfitted-twentysomethings. There was one guy whose heaving motions indicated he was this close to barfing during the second encore. Taken By Trees: For whatever reason, I assumed by the band name that Taken by Trees would be weepy indie folk. I was pleasantly surprised by Victoria Bergsman's solo work (you may recognize her voice from Peter, Bjorn, and John's hit "Young Folks") deftly incorporated Hawaiian island steel guitar, dub basslines, and reverb drenched surf guitars. Bravo. According to Jens: His last trip to Arizona didn't put him in Phoenix, but did place him at a two with two attendees and a dog, and "the dog left halfway through the set." In the Running For: Best show I've seen all year.


"A Higher Power" "I Know What Love Isn't" "The End of the World is Bigger Than Love" "Some Dandruff on Your Shoulders" "Golden Key" "The Opposite Of Hallelujah" [into "Give Me Just a Little More Time" by Chairman of the Board] "Waiting For Kirsten" "Black Cab" "I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots" "The World Moves On" "Maple Leaves" "Into Eternity" "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar"


"Arms Around Me" "Postcard to Nina"

Encore #2:

"And I Remember Every Kiss" "Every Little Hair Knows Your Name"

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.