Jens Lekman took the stage at Emo’s outdoor stage Thursday and before hitting a note asked the audience to not film his performance and post it on the Internet. The Swedish pop darling promised to proffer a special show, not the “Hollywood version” he would be performing at midnight. His 40 minutes were pure charm.
As a solo act, he reveals himself to be the Swedish version of Jonathan Richman, an element on the back burner on his “Night Falls Over Kortedela,” one of last year’s best-reviewed discs. Stripping the music down to a single electric hollow-body guitar, Lekman emphasized the innocence and earnestness of his music. Like Richman, he slips in and out of a cappella sections, strikes his body to set a beat and, most significantly, tells stories full of longing, some of it romantic, some of it for the simplicity of youth.
Centerpiece was “A Postcard to Nina,” a lengthy story about saving money on airfare and busfare to get to Berlin to see a platonic girlfriend, who has told her father that Jens is her fiancé in a ploy to sneak off with her lesbian girlfriend. Lekman plays along as the family sits down to dinner, dad wants to play Lekman’s CD and talk about his future plans. Rather than bolt or chastise his friend, Lekman’s ultimate advice is the touching line “don’t let anyone stand in your way.”
Other Lekman subjects: taking his sister to the seaside, a Spanish girl urging him to hush, monthly trips to the hairdresser and the summer of 1993, which he sings while playing a slightly altered version of “Heatwave.”
Quieter moments, like Lekman’s set, stood out Thursday, particularly Bon Iver’s latenight show at the outdoor Mohawk Patio. The Bon Iver sound, created in the woods of Wisconsin, has moments that sound like a response to wolves howling and rhythms that resemble the crackle of a campfire. It’s intimate, folk-oriented music augmented sonically with sounds that paint an image of coldness. Act requested a sing-along and got it on the line “what might have been lost”; in all the coldness, the aud’s voices wrapped around the music like a warm sleeping bag.
Even warmer was the string music Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet’s set in a church hall, a sublime nightcap of cello, banjo and violin that can only be described as a balm for the soul, especially when mediocre heavy metal is blaring from blocks away.