Australian synth-pop artist Geoffrey O’Connor provided a unique set opening up a night of quirky, fun music at DC’s Sixth & I Synagogue on Wednesday night. O’Connor is currently on tour in the US supporting Swedish indie-pop darling Jens Lekman. When he took the stage he was a bit dwarfed by his surroundings- one man with a guitar and synthesizer in the spacious hallowed cavern of the synagogue. He introduced himself with small voice as well, not particularly exuding confidence or much stage presence. But as he began his first song, the contrast of his singing voice was immediately apparent- he sang with a deep, velvety croon, and when performing he clearly did not lack confidence.
His songs were pre-programmed synth/drum tracks, with some live guitar played over them. The sound was reminiscent of an 80s movie soundtrack, but a good one, like a John Hughes movie. At times the performance felt a little bit like karaoke- tossing his mic from hand to hand, pacing the stage, and even going out into the crowd- all made more awkward by the fact that he was alone on stage, with prerecorded tracks accompanying him. His antics might have seemed more rock & roll had he been backed by a live band. On the other hand, perhaps his awkwardness is a big part of his charm and appeal. In between songs he warmed up as the set progressed, even drawing laughs from the crowd with a few jokes. Highlights of his set included the dreamy ballad “Now And Then” and “Whatever Leads Me To You.” It can’t be easy to get up onstage by yourself in front of a sold-out audience who isn’t there to see you, but he pulled off a solid, if strange, performance, and the crowd responded enthusiastically.
Jens Lekman entered the stage with his drummer Addison Rogers to a sea of applause from the sold out crowd. The tone of the evening from that point on was upbeat and exuberant. Lekman was at ease onstage, and had a comfortable and conversational rapport with the audience, making it feel like we could be sitting in his living room. He started off his set with the quiet and lovely “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name.” The music was Lekman on guitar and singing, some occasional pre-recorded tracks layered in (horns, synth, glockenspiel), and his drummer keeping the beat and providing harmonizing backup vocals. His songs, whether subdued and pensive or bouncy and dancy, are filled with unexpected, often amusing lyrics- the words are equally or more important that the melodies. It is fun to be in a crowd full of devoted fans, and this was clearly the case Wednesday. No one was too cool to sing along, and several songs had the whole audience filling in the chorus, or clapping to the beat. Highlights of the set were many, but my personal favorites included the upbeat “An Argument With Myself,” (which was faintly reminiscent of The Smiths), “Golden Key,” and “The Opposite of Hallelujah.” He came back for not one, but two encores, first joined by his drummer Rogers and opener O’Connor, and then once more by himself. He left the audience cheering wildly and pining for more of his Swedish charm.