Let's talk about how much I love Sweden. Not only have they given me IKEA, Swedish fish candy, ABBA, and Pippi Longstocking, the country that rests on the Baltic Sea has also delivered a one Jens Lekman into my life. Immediately I fell in love with his sweet, honest lyrics that talk about his hairdresser and being a mock boyfriend for a lesbian friend, all laid over very intricate acoustics. But, there was something more pressing about the 27-year-old I needed to address when he first came on my radar.
We have the same name. Granted, mine is a nickname, and his is probably birth-given, but still. Most people call me Jenz - even at work and school - and I'm most comfortable with that version of my legal moniker. Thus, when I found out Jens would be playing in my fine city, I knew I had to somehow finagle documentation of us together. Jens and Jenz had to take a picture. Fate, duh.
There were a lot of firsts I experienced Sunday night as my good friend Danielle and I rolled into Bottom of the Hill for the show. The neighborhood this venue is in seemed very tranquil, which was in complete opposition to the first time I attend a show there and saw someone get mugged on the side of the venue. We then walked through the front doors and it was the first time I have ever seen a crowd at this place, which ordinarily hosts punk and rock-oriented shows, absolutely quiet. This hush-hush attitude blanketed over all of us, and the intensity that Jens was being watched up on stage was both frightening and refreshing. We tried to order beers as quietly as possible and tiptoed our way to a place in the audience.
Jens was only armed with a guitar, and a guitar only; a friend came to play percussion on select songs, but he was front and center, all bravado, and no bullshit. He was wearing this white collared shirt with a giant flower on the shoulder, and when we got up closer, we observed his bottom half of the ensemble: the khaki version of skinny jeans, black socks, and lived-in white dress shoes. I hadn't even heard him sing and I was already sold on whatever he had planned to do just based on his wardrobe.
His set was crafted much, much differently than I've seen recent musicians do. He punctuated his song tracking with short dialogues in between, offering stories to the crowd about what the next tune was going to be about. Jens had this uncanny, deadpan way of delivering his stories; talking about being frugal about traveling between Germany and Sweden ("I could fly Ryan Air for 35 Euro, or take a bus that takes 20 hours and costs 30 Euro - I picked the bus because I am cheap, and you never know when you'll need an extra 5 Euro"), or talking about going through customs with weird instruments and trying to explain them to federal agents ("Dude, look it up on Wikipedia. Isn't that what all Americans do anyway when they wonder about stuff?"). I still don't know if he was being unintentionally hilarious on purpose, or was hiding the hint of humor glimmer from the crowd because he knew it would elicit a response.
Nonetheless, it was quite wonderful to drink in both Jens's narratives and music, as that was what initially won me over. He has this tongue-in-check, sassy attitude that is both very endearing and successful for him, and that is also wholeheartedly reflected in his lyrics. In the beginning of "A Postcard to Nina," it opens with "Nina, I can be your boyfriend, so you can stay with your girlfriend/Your father is a sweet old man, but it is hard for him to understand that you wanna love a woman." His brutal but lovable honesty works, and its candidacy of telling every day life is completely refreshing. Plus, sprinkling in choreographed dance moves, witty banter, and playful smiles throughout his set also won major points. It's obvious he truly enjoys performing, and it shows. Needless to say, everyone there along with us was pretty bummed after he finished his set.
"You know...if you didn't hear a song you wanted to tonight, I am taking requests after the show in the back," Jens said after he thanked everyone for coming out. People started to file out, and Danielle and I looked at each other in confusion and pure glee. Was this for real?
He quietly exited the stage, and we decided Operation: Sweden was into full gear. We grabbed second beers from the bar and took a stake outside in the back of Bottom of the Hill, where the tar fiends usually get their nicotine fix in between bands. A few minutes later, Jens came down from an upstairs dressing room and waved to the small throng that had gathered at the base of the staircase, darting back up a minute later to grab his guitar and play an acoustic song to a crowd of maybe 40. It was phenomenal, and something so personal I don't get to see a lot of musicians do. Or maybe, it simply doesn't happen.
After he finished singing and we clapped, a momentary pause was in place and Jens looked around and cracked "So, does anyone want to say hi or have me sign something?" Fans started moving in slowly to shake his hand, take pictures, or profess their adorations. I saw guys approach him simply for a hug, girls asking to have him draw on their shoes, and a dude dressed as the Easter bunny complete with a giant rabbit head pose for a Polaroid. It was nuts. And every time, Jens looked at each person directly in the eyes, asking their names and what they enjoyed about the night (even if it wasn't his performance), and I was completely struck on how genuine the experience really, truly felt. Venue staff and members of his entourage came up to tell him he had to go because the venue was closing, or that the bus would leave without him, and Jens would insist on staying until he met everyone. I was so moved.
At one point, though, these people were serious, and it started looking like Jens was going to be physically picked up by his people and carried to the bus to take off. When he looked my way after working over to my section of the crowd, I shot up my hand in the air like I was in math class, and said one of the stupidest things ever to catch his attention and ended up being a borderline pick-up line.
"Jens, it was totally destiny that we meet tonight," I blurted out. I saw a shift in his eyes that said "You intrigue me, crazy girl," and we gravitated towards each other.
"Really?" he said. "Why?"
"Because we have the same name," I replied.
This was obviously too much for him, as he said "Wait, what? How is that possible?" and asked for me to spell out my name. Jens is a Swedish name for a male, and I am, obviously, a female, so I could see the sheer confusion about this. After I recited the letters in my name and he re-spelled it himself about four times, he grinned and said "Oh yes, that is very nice" and I laughed really, really hard. I went on to blab about how I truly enjoyed the show and all his quips, and that I was thankful all the stars aligned in the right place for us to meet, which he also was amused by.
I told him that our picture had to reflect the Jens and Jenz love, that two become one and our forces combined made us unstoppable.
We were going for a heart, but unfortunately it looks more like a smushed tomato. I'm okay with that.
Danielle and I said our goodbyes to Jens, and gushed the whole way home on the sheer magnitude of the night - not a bad moment, start to finish, beautiful music, laughter and fun. On the way home I remember wishing that every show I attended to end in this way, but then it wouldn't be special. It was nights like these that my faith in music was restored, renewed, and celebrated. Thank you, Jens. And if you ever need an American wife or dual citizenship for anything, call me.