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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jens Lekman @ The Pabst Theater

March 29, 2008

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LikeJonathan Richman, Jens Lekman is a doeeyed and baritonevoiced songwriter who travels the world singing simple, unaffected songs about universal experiences. And like Richman, he writes some of the purest, most genuine music ever recorded.

But where Richman relies on just a primitive guitardrum setup to share his vision in concert, Lekman aims for something grander. For his latest tour, he’s recruited a quintet of musicians, including a violinist and cellist, whose swooning strings caress his more intimate songs and aggrandize his zippier, poppier ones. With a little assistance from a laptop, Lekman’s arrangements can conjure anything from classic soul to disco to calypso. Jonathan Richman’s music only sounds this fully realized in Jonathan Richman’s head.

Although almost all of Lekman’s songs are mundane and autobiographical—they’re inspired by cab rides, long walks and fleeting crushes—most work as parables. On one of his finest numbers, “Opposite of Hallelujah,” the perpetually subjugated singer channels both Holden Caulfield and Charlie Brown when he attempts to explain the cold world to his little sister during a stroll on the beach: “I picked up a seashell to illustrate my homelessness, but a crab crawled out of it, making it useless.” The account of a dejected romantic failing to describe his melancholy to an uncorrupted kin stings, but the arrangement is upbeat, the melody infectious and comforting. It’s a feel good song about feeling bad.

In a clever nod to one of his more prevalent musical muses, Motown, Lekman’s jaunty run-through of “Opposite of Hallelujah” Saturday night gave way to a sudden, pre-recorded excerpt of the rhythmically similar 1970 soul hit “Give Me Just a Little More Time.” Hearing the track’s familiar, impassioned chorus, Lekman’s face lit up like a child, and he began clapping, dancing and pantomiming along, eliciting loud hoots from the crowd. Even this staged antic rang with sincerity: The beaming Lekman looked every bit as surprised and elated by the switch as the audience.