Gig Review: Jens Lekman @ Sacred Trinity Church, Salford, 27th November 2007

About a month ago I stuck Jens Lekman’s new album, the magnificent Night Falls Over Kortedala, into the swanky new CD player we have in our bathroom. It seems that hearing the first four tracks on this album for five days straight had quite an adverse effect on JustHipper – who had previously been fairly receptive to this Swedish pop genius – and on the fifth day she burst into the lounge and screamed something along the lines of “if you don’t get that pile of moany shite out of the CD player ASAP then I will kill you and Jens Lekman, what with him all whining on about his first kiss and his lesbian friends and referencing himself in every fucking song. Aargh!” I swear that if we ever split up it will be because of “musical differences”.

And so she didn’t make it down to the gig, sparing both mine and Jens’ life in the process, and allowing a fortunate history student called Luke the opportunity to witness one of those rare gigs that in five years time he’ll be telling everyone “I was there.” Pews had been dragged to the wings and the “stage” set up at the business end of the church, though there wasn’t an actual stage which made viewing very difficult for most. First on was Neil Burrell who I’d seen at Islington Mill last year and who was even stranger here than he was back then. It is very difficult to define his sound as he sounds all over the place with vocals that veer unexpectedly into wildly out-of-tune falsetto and songs that seem to end abruptly just as they’re getting going. I swear that he was actually un-tuning his guitar between songs rather than tuning it up. With a complete absence of stage presence and the shortness and downright weirdness of the songs it was very difficult to get a handle on him and much of the audience seemed to lose interest pretty quicky. It was nothing if not intriguing, however, and the final song, a more linear folksy effort in which he put on a very strong, almost comic, Scottish accent, was pretty excellent.

Next up was Magic Arm who was quite impressive with his use of the looping pedal; building up backing tracks with great skill, using all manner of instruments. Folktronica is, I believe, what they call it these days and, yes, he was a veritable one man Beta Band. He played covers of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Ballade de Melody Nelson” (translated into English, no less) and LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and they were both superb while his other stuff wasn’t too bad either.

Jens Lekman @ Sacred Trinity Church, SalfordThe congregation shuffled forward to the altar to greet Jens Lekman, the few sitting on the floor at the front remaining seated to literally worship at his feet. It was an odd atmosphere; the crowd very quiet and reverential, not just for Jens himself but for the venue. To describe it as intimate would be an understatement. Jens judged it perfectly, starting with “Into Eternity”, just him and an acoustic guitar, though he was quickly joined by a curiously dressed young lady on bongoes and backing vocals. He told stories as he strummed along during the segue into “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” and everything was all mellow and relaxed until halfway through when a backing track suddenly kicked in, surprising everyone; even the two performers struggled to get into sync with the drums and blaring horns for a couple of bars. The storytelling continued through the sublime “A Postcard To Nina” as Jens added even more detail to the story of a nightmare dinner with his friend’s Catholic parents, pretending he was engaged to her to deflect the fact that she was going off to set up home with her girlfriend.

Though the backing tracks were used sparingly throughout the evening they were always welcome and superbly judged; during the marvellous “The Opposite Of Hallelujah” we got Chairman Of The Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” bursting through the monitors fitting in perfectly with the song’s chord progression. He also used the increasingly ubiquitous looping pedal to build up vocal harmonies on a number of tracks before encouraging an initially reluctant audience to do the harmonies for him. It was difficult not to feel self-conscious in such an intimate setting and Jens struggled to get people to even clap along in the early stages. “A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill” found moderate success in the sing-a-long chorus but it was “Pocketful Of Money” that won out with much of the male contingent, me included, singing the deep vocal refrain of “I’ll come running with a heart on fire” under their breath to produce a quite beautiful cumulative effect.

Jens Lekman @ Sacred Trinity Church, SalfordThere were so many other highlights and there wasn’t a single moment when the performance flagged. “The Cold Swedish Winter” was a quiet joy while “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” and “Shirin” managed to be both uplifting and melancholy at the same time. He was generous with the encores and by the time we got to “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” and “Black Cab” everyone was up on their feet, dancing and singing along. He ended with the gorgeous “Tram #7 To Heaven”, a fitting end to what was a quite extraordinary and unique gig-going experience.

Jens Lekman – A Postcard To Nina

Jens Lekman – Tram #7 To Heaven

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