Friday, October 14, 2005

Jens Lekman - Bennington College - 10/13/05

Last night, I rode down the spine of the Green Mountains to Bennington to catch the King of Swedish Pop, Jens Lekman. I had never seen Lekman live and had no idea what to expect but I left wanting to see him many more times.

I also had never driven from Montpelier to Bennington before and had heard horror stories of slow traffic on Route 7 and of it taking over three hours. Well, despite rain, fog and darkness it only took 2 hours and 15 minutes to get down there (without anyone else on the road, it only took 2 hours on the way home). I can understand why Route 7 might be a hassle with traffic but besides "rush half-hour" it doesn't seem that bad.

I met an old friend, who works at Bennington College, for the show and dinner before hand. He wasn't aware of Lekman before I asked him to go to the show (in fact, up to showtime, he kept calling him Hans Lekman which was funny) but he's a big music fan and always open to new stuff. Before the show, we grabbed dinner at a cool restaurant in North Bennington called Pangaea. Interesting varied menu and a cool space. I had the Moss Burger which was a good call for a pre-show meal.

We then headed over to the campus for the show. I knew Nedelle was opening for Lekman and scheduled to on around 10pm. I didn't know anything about Nedelle but wanted to check her out. So, we got to Downcaf, the student pub where the show was scheduled, around 10pm. As we walked up to the place, I could through the windows that the place was empty. We rounded the corner to get to the door and saw Lekman just hanging out with the band by the door with only a handful of staff and students inside.

I immediately flashed back to my experiences with The Pernice Brothers and The National and said to my friend, "I can't believe this is fucking happening again! Three shows in a month with just me and the band. What the hell is wrong with Vermont? Or is it me? I'm the kiss of death for any concert. Bands are going to start asking me not to curse their shows by showing up."

After paying our $5, we walked into the empty room with the few people there staring at us like we had just trespassed into their living room. The Downcaf is basically four walls and a bar with a one foot high stage in the corner. Concrete floors. Brick walls. Exposed ceiling with pipes and steel I-beams just waiting for the chance to crush the sound of the most precise musicians. At this point, the night was looking like a downer.

But, as Dylan says, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. That is when I noticed the drink prices. Draft beer was either $1 or $2 and soda was $0.50 with unlimited refills. Well, at least it won't cost us much. I grabbed a Coke for caffeine reasons and my friend got a beer before we slinked over to the corner to find a booth that'll hide the akwardness of the moment.

However, over the next twenty minutes, students started trickling in. By the time Nedelle took the stage with her acoustic guitar there were probably about 20 people there. Most of them were sitting on the floor which was good because they took up more space and made the crowd look larger.

Nedelle is your classic folk singer with a beautiful voice. In fact, her voice reminds me a lot of Laura Veirs. Her first three songs were done solo but then she started adding in members of Lekman's band inlcuding Lekman himself. First she added the cellist and violinist for a pair of songs. Then Jens joined the party for a tune before Jens' drummer and bassist climbed aboard too. It was a nice way to show off her different sounds. I think I like her best with the full band but my friend liked her solo stuff the best. A little bit for everyone. Regardless, it was good enough to get me to buy one of her CDs after her performance.

I also picked up the US Tour CD that Lekman was selling. It's a four song EP that he burned himself on some blank discs he bought at the store. It doesn't get much more DIY than that, folks. It has for songs on it with the first track being my favorite (based upon the two spins I gave it on the way home).

By the way, I tried to take some photos but the batteries in my camera had died. So, all you get are these child-like renderings that I scratched together to give you an idea of what it looked like. For some reason, putting my horrible drawings up here seemed pretty funny to me. But it also gives you crude idea of the scene.

During the break, they must have called all the students or something because somehow the students knew exactly when to show up. What initially looked like another evening of listening to a musician play to a dead room turned into a fairly well attended night. In the end there were about 75 people there for the show which isn't horrible for a school with only 600 students and zero promotion. Hell, I had to beg for info from the booking agent to find out about it. Plus, it wasn't just the number of people that flowed in before Jens took the stage, it was the fact that they were pretty lively. As the set rolled along, more and more people started to dance to the point I thought I was at a sock-hop. It was a fun crowd and made for a memorable show.

Lekman took the stage around 11pm with his aforementioned band. Plus, Nedelle and some other guy who looked familiar joined in on the side of the stage for occasional backing vocals. Despite my fears of cruddy sound problems, they sounded great. Jens vocals were mixed a little low but it must be tough to mix his voice in a live setting since it's so deep. However, the low vocals didn't ruin the show.

He started with "We're All Going to Die" (I assume that's the song title since it's the only lyric) and then went right into "Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa". Since I didn't have any expectations, I was really happy with the upbeat nature of the show. Jens seemed to be enjoying himself and he packed the short set with a lot of poppy numbers. I don't remember every tune or the order but he did "Black Cab", "You Are the Light", "Julie", "Do You Remember the Riots?", "I Saw Her at the Anti-War Demonstration" and a cover from a band that I thought he said was called The Happy Cameras but I couldn't understand him. Google doesn't show any results for a band by that name so he probably said something else but he described them as a band he likes but they are "very bad at selling records". He tied together "Do You Remember the Riots?" and "I Saw Her at the Anti-War Demonstration" by telling the love story behind the songs and how he blames George Bush for his love problems. It was kind of funny. There were a few other tunes too but either I didn't know the name of the song or have forgotten it. Four hours of sleep will do that to you.

Lekman has a lot of stage prescence. Not in a rock-n-roll animal kind of way but in an amusing animated way where you don't stop looking at him. As he switches from ukelele to guitar to whistle to some West African thumb plucking box harp, you get the sense that he is enjoying being up there and is confident in what he is doing. Confident but not cocky. Just comfortable with the spectacle.

Towards the end of the show, he took out the West African instrument that I mangled in my description above. He said he likes to play it because it reminds him of snow despite being from West Africa. The odd thing is that the instrument makes the exact same sound as a button in a children's book my son has called Dream Snow by Eric Carle. So, Eric Carle seems to agree with Jens regarding the feeling of snow from it.

Lekman did a quick encore with his ukelele while standing solo down in the crowd. The crowd was very appreciative and Jens seemed a bit surprised by the loud cheers for one more song. However, he also seemed like he was up against a deadline and needed to get off the stage (it was just before midnight). So, in an attempt to appease the crowd, he took his ukelele with him and said that the show was over but if anyone wanted to hear another song, they should asked him directly and he would play it just in front of them. He then made his way to the back of the room.

If I didn't have to drive two hours home and get up with the kids at 6am, I would have asked to hear "Maple Leaves". How can you come to the maple syrup capital of the world and not play "Maple Leaves"? Right? But it didn't matter, it had been a fun night and it left me with the desire to see him again. My friend said he really enjoyed the show too despite not knowing any of the songs. A new Lekman fan was born.

This show was the first stop in a two week coast-to-coast tour. So if you get a chance to see him, I would strongly recommend it. Jens is the King of Swedish Pop.

UPDATE: In the comments, a fellow from Jens hometown of Gothenberg said that the name of the band they did a cover from is The Hidden Cameras (not the Happy Cameras).

UPDATE: Also in the comments, jds of Latitude 44.2N named the instrument I didn't know. It's called a kalimba. Thanks to both of you.

ONE MORE UPDATE: The four tracks on the US Tour EP are:

  • Run Away with Me
  • How Much You Mean to Me
  • Me on the Beach (Nagisa ni te)
  • Jag Tyckte Hon Sa Lonnlov
UPDATE: Evemeyer, who posted a brief review in the comments here, posted a few pictures she took of the show on this site. She was on the other side of the stage from me but, from this photo, you easily see how accurate my etchings were above.

9 comments:

H. Caulfield said...

Sounds like a great night. I envy you, I'm living in Jens hometown Gothenburg. USA is too far away!
The name of the band is The Hidden Cameras anyways, I think they are candian or something.

jds said...

You talking about a Kalimba?
http://www.asza.com/ikalim.shtml

The Toubab Krewe play one.
http://www.toubabkrewe.com/

Flatlander said...

Holden, thanks for the tip. I'll have to check into them.

Flatlander said...

jds, that's it. I'm bumping both of these points up to the front page.

Zu said...

lovely review!! thanks a lot for sharing.. I hope you dont mind If I post a link of this on my site. I´m sure many people would like to read about it..

and a shame he didnt play Maple leaves... his performance of that song is just as great as the song itself. :(

cheers. Zu

evemeyer said...

We just got back from the show in Bennington, VT. Let's just say that Jens, Nevelle and the band put on A GREAT SHOW! You are true class with NATURAL BORN talent! We smiled all the way home. We will smile in our slumber. What a great scene. GO TO THEIR SHOWS! Drive 1-2-3 hours. Isn't it worth your time just to find something that can make you happy and put a smile on your face? WE LOVE YOU! Regards, Robyn and Greg (Thanks for letting me take photos) You are SuperStars!!! rkearns@nycap.rr.com | www.robynkearns.com

Bob F. said...

Murph--

Great story & review...the pictures are a nice touch!

Yeah, The Hidden Cameras are from Toronto, and are a Rough Trade band. Quite good.

Michael K. said...

You're inspiring me to make a 2 3/4 hour trip to Cleveland and back on a school night. Well, you and Jens. Thanks.

Eve Meyer said...

Just wanted to pass on a couple of good musicians to you, seeing that you have good taste. Go and see them is you get a chance.
www.sebastianclark.com
Ollie Byrd


Come down to Albany , NY for a show in July (23) www.nochealbany.com I am trying to get Jens Lekman to play here. I will keep you posted.