From Iceland — Lekman’s Heart On Fire

Lekman’s Heart On Fire

Published September 7, 2007

Lekman’s Heart On Fire

Jens places a small cold bottle of white wine, a glass and a chair on the stage. A light hush falls slowly over the crowd as he picks up his guitar and steps up to the microphone. “Oooooo,” he whispers. In the great glass dome the lights quickly dim. The rain sounds hard against the roof.

“There’s work to do,” he begins to sing. Moving a little to his right, “You can do it later,” he croons into a second microphone. Alone with his guitar, eyes closed, he points his face upward towards the slippery roof, and the words glide out soft but strong. “The rain has got to fall. The rain has got to fall. The rain has got to fall.”

I don’t know what it is about Lekman that makes his delivery so sweet, or his concerts so memorable. On his last visit to Iceland, Saturday night of Airwaves 2006, he half-accidentally played the festival’s most captivating set, replacing Jenny Wilson last-minute with just a parlour guitar in hand. Now he was doing it again. Almost inadvertently, the whole room had fallen in love with him.

Jens and his band, which consisted at this point of a drummer and a bassist, launched unabashedly into Black Cab, in a clear and sincere sort of vibrant flurry. Soon after, the trumpets, trombone, horn and acoustic guitar of Benni Hemm Hemm sounded suddenly from the back of the room, as they began a slow march up the centre isle with the opening chords of A Sweet Summer’s Night At Hammer Hill.

“When you’ve been performing your songs for a long time, you lose perspective,” Lekman said. “So now I’m going to ask these people to play one of my songs for me,” he added before jumping off the stage with his chair and his bottle of wine in hand. He sat down in the small clearing in front of the stage and poured himself a glass as an instrumental version of Julie began, made only sweeter by Lekman pleasantly nodding along, every once in awhile breaking out into song that only a few members of the front row could hear.

Jens and Benni then proceeded to sing a few songs together, including Aldrei from Hemm Hemm’s Kajak, which Lekman sang along to in Icelandic. It was Lekman’s Pocketful of Money, however, that provided the show’s real climax. “I’ll come running with a heart on fire,” he chanted over and over, proving to me once and for all that earnestness is the most enchanting element an artist can ever hope to possess.

The set ended with Maple Leaves, sung in his native Swedish. Lekman, who has often sung in languages foreign to him, citing that they provide him with an innocent experience of music, was now giving us a taste of his own medicine.

A well-deserved encore followed, as in the air you could feel the crowd hungry for more of that sweet something that Lekman was so innocently pouring out. A certain something that I still can’t pin-down. Something entirely accidental, perhaps, so simple that it’s beyond words, best enjoyed with your eyes closed and your heart wide open.

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