MUSIC

At the Black Cat, Jens Lekman's free-spirit vibe was the epitome of indie cool.
At the Black Cat, Jens Lekman's free-spirit vibe was the epitome of indie cool. (By Jon Hoover)

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox has come a long way in the past three decades. She's remade herself again and again into everything from synth-pop goddess to sultry chanteuse, and sold close to 80 million records along the way. And now, at 52, she's at the top of her form, delivering hard-driving, powerhouse singing with a voice that still defies categories -- and seems only to have ripened with age.

She doesn't tour much, though, so her appearance at Lisner Auditorium on Thursday night was a rare treat. Dressed starkly in black and fronting a seven-piece band, Lennox pulled out all the stops, digging into everything from early Eurythmics ("There Must Be an Angel [Playing With My Heart]," "Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This]") to several stripped-down songs from her new disc, "Songs of Mass Destruction."

And there wasn't a slack moment in the show; Lennox sings with the intensity of a woman going into battle. From amped-up ballads like "Dark Road" to an achingly beautiful version of "Here Comes the Rain Again" (which she sang solo at the piano), she always had something to say and said it directly from the heart. And that spectacular voice, while clearly a little more tired than it was 25 years ago, is still a force of nature -- with a gutsy, powerful edge to it that only living can give.

It was a spectacular performance on its own, but there was one more intriguing side to it. As Lennox sang, MTV-style videos from her past were projected on a screen above the stage. One by one, her amazing incarnations floated by, from Marie Antoinette to Euro-chic babe to youthful Mouseketeer. Slightly out of sync and clouded by stage smoke, the images floated over her like fragments of memory from a rich and complex past.

-- Stephen Brookes

Jens Lekman

Jens Lekman is the latest musician to become the face of indie coolness by acting as if he has no idea what the term even means. The Swedish star took the Black Cat stage Thursday night in a garish floral shirt, smiled like a complete goofball throughout his entire set, sang songs with titles like "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo" and even briefly ran around the stage "flying" like an airplane.

But don't think his newfound status has anything to do with irony. If the boyish 26-year-old isn't yet a certifiable pop music genius, his inspired performance in front of an enraptured sellout crowd proved that he's at least well on his way.

Lekman croons like Morrissey and shares a fey gene with Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, but has more in common with fellow free spirit Jonathan Richman. This is particularly true of his lyrics, which are at one second hilarious and the next touching, but always delivered with the same unflinching sincerity. "I took my sister down to the ocean/But the ocean made me feel stupid" he sang on the jubilant "The Opposite of Hallelujah," the kind of song so catchy that it should appeal to anyone with a pulse, not just MP3-blog readers.

Most songs were bouncy and buoyant, thanks to Lekman's backing band of six Nordic females who played flute, saxophone, guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, all while maintaining icy gazes. If the results didn't necessarily sound like the work of his country's most famous musical exports, Lekman's songs do have the same irresistible immediacy of Abba tunes. The few numbers he played unaccompanied lacked the sizzle of the full-band material but offered a chance for better connection with the audience.

Set closer "Pocketful of Money" took a reliably horrible gimmick -- Lekman and the audience singing a round, in unison -- and made something truly magical out of it. Even Lekman admitted it was the "most beautiful" version of that song to date and to play anything else would simply ruin the moment.

-- David Malitz


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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