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Last Wednesday, a particularly strange quote appeared on Matthew Perpetua’s Tumblr blog, in reference to James Blake:
This is a microcosm of a lot of what I am finding increasingly infuriating in indie culture, i.e., a total rejection of overt masculinity, and this feeling that anyone who is at all macho is the enemy. Why does this culture have to be entirely the domain of skinny, sniveling beta males? Why is aggression, sexuality and physicality in music automatically conflated with a bad scene? We need to really think about this.
This perspective is off-putting for a handful of reasons, not least of which being Perpetua’s ostensible R.E.M. fandom — would he prefer that Michael Stipe be more butch? — and the long-standing existence of punk and metal and other musics designed to meet these needs, leaving recent indie rock, folk and twee to the domain of bookish romantics. But the growing, seemingly antithetical diversity of indie listeners’ tastes — epitomized perfectly by Kanye West and Justin Vernon’s collaborations — does need a middle ground. Something between Vernon’s forlorn strumming and West’s pictures-of-my-dick braggadocio.
The genre’s future may well be Jens Lekman, an artist Perpetua would no doubt dub a “beta male” for his self-deprecating humor and supreme devotion to melodic sweetness. He’s certainly skinny enough (and potentially balding). But Lekman’s songs, especially those of 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, are the boldest of his generation. On Wednesday night, accompanied by a lone drummer and drolly warning the audience, “I feel great tonight, I’m sorry,” he played a set that encompassed acoustic vulnerability, political satire and a hip-hop-worthy dance party complete with that rarest of L.A. activities, actual dancing.
The first half of the set included the songs of his new EP, a handful of You’re So Silent Jens classics (including probably the definitive solo version of “Black Cab”) and a few tracks that should make his next full-length. Many of the unreleased new songs in his rotation (“Cowboy Boots,” “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name”) are bittersweet break-up ballads akin to the sad songs of his first album, When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog. He is a still a wonderful creator of these songs; if anything, “Cowboy Boots” is as haunting a combination of narrative and melody as he’s ever done. It’s the political stuff, including the EP’s “Waiting for Kirsten” and the more jovial, anti-macho “I Stopped a Fight” which stumbled a bit, though Lekman’s pro-socialism monologues earned pockets of applause from the audience of former Obama voters. The overstuffed verses of “Waiting for Kirsten,” in particular, try too hard to equate the ridiculousness of trying to meet a celebrity with Gothenburg’s metaphorical “VIP lines.”
But things got smoother. He saved the Kortedala jams until the end of the set, where they arrived with immediate impact: “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar” turned the crowd into a bespectacled R. Kelly video, complete with a trio of young women invading the stage. That was before I noticed the circle of ironic iPhone glowstickers, one of the dorkiest, most celebratory things I’ve ever seen at a show. Would it have happened with Skrillex playing to the same room? Would they have felt safe and confident or under assault? It doesn’t matter. There’s plenty of physicality in Lekman’s music, as there is sorrow and joy and humor and self-awareness. Now, more than ever, his songs covers the full gamut of human feeling; it is the art we say we want, or at least the kind we should.
Opening the show was Geoffrey O’Connor, Crayon Fields frontman and the latest virtual unknown to receive the Lekman Fans Talking About Twitter Or Whatever During An Opening Set In Los Angeles treatment. He played mostly by himself, a brave move if he’d seen the all-but-tomato-throwing crowds encountered by the Honeydrips at Lekman’s 2008 Music Box gig. O’Connor’s solo stuff, less propulsive than his band’s smooth indie-pop material, recalled the reverb-flooded ebb and flow of Roxy Music’s Avalon if not always its charisma.