Jens Leckman/The Honeydrips; March 30, 2008; Old Music Hall
Funny how things work. After not having been to the Barrymore in months I was there two nights in a row. I hadn’t been to a show in the Old Music Hall, located on campus at the bottom of Bascom Hill for years, and yet here I was a second time this weekend (the previous day I had come to watch the live broadcast of Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know featuring the only band that matters, Blueheels). They frequently feature campus theater productions here, but I had to wonder why they don’t have more concerts. It’s a spacious room with good sightlines, and despite its age still quite dignified. In fact, my only complaint was that it was far too warm, and that combined with a comfy seat and an insanely long wait between opener and headliner, I occasionally found it hard to keep my eyes open.
The last time I had seen Leckman he was entertaining a field full of people at the Pitchfork festival in Chicago. While I object to almost everything about the pretentious music tastemaker’s website, from their condescending reviews to their we’re always right attitude, they do a pretty good job selecting the acts for their annual festival. On that day, Leckman’s sunny pop was perfectly matched to the day and to his all female backing band, complete with horn section, all clad in white. Apparently he didn’t have quite the budget for this tour and had to leave the horn section at home. Instead his pair of string players (one of them Madison’s own Marla Hansen) and rhythm section were joined by the only other male on stage, a flamboyant dude working the laptop (which filled in for those missing horns among other things). So over-the-top was his performance that it was hard not to watch him.
Leckman however did an excellent job keeping our attention on him. Not only was the set full of ridiculously catchy tunes, he was also a wry storyteller with an excellent sense of humor. When he pulled out an odd looking stringed device he explained that it was an African folk instrument. He then told us how inevitably as he passes through security as he travels he is questioned about it, when they doubt his story they look it up on Wikipedia. Confirmation of its existence is usually followed by a search for “Jens Leckman.” It’s amusing, and more than a little troubling that our nation’s security hinges on a user written Internet encyclopedia. Another amusing story preceded “Nina, I can’t Be Your Boyfriend.” An old friend had invited him to visit her and just before they went to her parents’ house for dinner, she informed him that they were engaged. Despite wanting to help her out, he decided he couldn’t serve as her cover story so her parents wouldn’t suspect she was a lesbian.
He returned for the encore to do a solo song before breaking out the dance-inducing “Candy Cane,” which had every one on their feet. The first to jump up was super fan who had come from who knows where for the show, and Jens greeted him warmly. He was also the first to participate in the airplane dance, which seemed odd until the band also joined in. I had hesitated to go to this show, but a pair of free tickets from the Onion convinced me. Thanks Onion, it was pretty cool.
Oddly named opener the Honeydrips, a fellow Swede, turned out to be just one guy. He took the stage precisely at 8 with a guitar around his neck and a laptop in hand. He plugged in the laptop and proceeded to sing along with the prerecorded tracks on it for the next four or five songs without touching the guitar. “I don’t need the guitar for this one,” he claimed before setting it on a stand and finishing without it. A bit like the Magnetic Fields without the charm, he was at least entertaining until he finished his set with two overly dramatic songs sung in Swedish. No worries, Jens had charm enough for both of them.