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Posted at 05:38 PM ET, 10/06/2011

In concert: Jens Lekman at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

Jens Lekman’s show at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue was subdued but charming. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)
A little more than halfway through Jens Lekman’s sold-out show at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, the Swedish singer-songwriter delivered the kind of magic moment that has made him so adored, even on the scale of a cult favorite. During a delicate solo version of “Black Cab,” the notes he plucked on his acoustic guitar gently twinkled and ascended upward into the ceilings of the sanctuary. He sang in a dour deadpan during the song’s downtrodden beginning (“I wanna sleep in my bed / I wanna clean up my head / Don’t wanna look this dead / Don’t wanna feel this dread”) and elevated to a stirring falsetto for the song’s hopeful climax (“So I say turn up the music / Take me home or take me anywhere”).

It’s one of Lekman’s best songs — sweet, funny, touching, disarmingly straightforward and delivered without a trace of irony. He splits the difference between Stephin Merritt’s pop-savantism and Jonathan Richman’s aura of childlike wonder. That’s the combination that has made him so lovable and approachable, the kind of person you want to sit with cross-legged on a couch while drinking tea.

Throughout “Black Cab,” the audience — and even Lekman’s drummer — sat in rapt silence. The 30-year-old crooner recognized and acknowledged the significance of what happened.

“That song found a home here in this synagogue,” he said at its conclusion, sounding as genuine as always.

It was the only transcendent moment of the 70-minute concert, when both performance and personality reached parallel peaks. The latter was on full display throughout. Lekman is a supreme charmer, whether he’s talking about stalking (benevolently, of course) Kirsten Dunst through his hometown of Gothenburg or spending a heartbroken 2008 election night in D.C. In both instances, the between-song banter was neatly reflected in the songs that followed. His matter-of-fact narratives serve his bold proclamations well (“A broken heart is not the end of the world/Because the end of the world is bigger than love”), grounding them in some sort of reality.

The acoustic, sit-down nature kept things subdued and a bit too sleepy for most of the show. Lekman concerts are a rarity in that audience participation -- singing, or snapping along -- actually makes them better. This audience seemed content to politely observe.

After “Black Cab” Lekman brought out a sampler and sauntered through “The Opposite of Hallelujah” and “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar,” two of the buoyant songs from his 2007 standout album, “Night Falls Over Kortedala.” It didn’t provide the same thrill as seeing him backed by a band of actual musicians, but was a reminder that he’s at his best when inspiring some movement.

“Hallelujah” ended with pre-recorded xylophone clinks, as Lekman mimed tapping out each note, straining and lifting his arm upward to reach the highest ones. It was goofy, silly and something only a few others could hope to pull off.

By  |  05:38 PM ET, 10/06/2011

Categories:  In concert | Tags:  Jens Lekman

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