Last night, I saw Jens Lekman perform at the Arts at the Armory complex in Somerville, just a 20 minute walk from my house. The last time I saw Lekman perform was in 2005, at a tiny club across town, PA’s Lounge. (It was also then that I interviewed him for a profile in Splendid E-Zine). In the interim, Lekman has gathered lots of acclaim for his honest, emotional, clever and at times charmingly awkward songwriting.
When I saw him in ’05 at PA’s, he was very fresh and young. He shyly clung to the microphone, eyes shut, crooning away. But at the Armory, I was stunned by how Lekman has matured as a performer in the past nearly seven years. At a sold-out venue packed with nearly 400 fans, Lekman commanded the stage with ease and comfort, dancing around, responding to the crowd and obviously enjoying the night.
It made me think about the act of creation. When you create something — a song, an essay, a painting, a website — you create a world. You can either invite people into it, or not.
Back in 2005, we got to observe the worlds of Lekman’s creation, and the audience derived some enjoyment from that. But we were not a part of them. Those worlds were his own. Last night, however, we were invited into them. We became an integral part of them.
After the show, my friend Chris remarked, “He was just completely engaged.” And that was it. Yes, the concept of engagement is one of the most overused in marketing. But now, after this concert, I feel like I have a better understanding of it than ever before. To engage someone is to invite them into the world of your creation, and to make it a shared experience. They become as much a part of it as you are, sharing in the honesty, the emotion, the cleverness and, yes, even the charming awkwardness.
Sometimes, your world needs to remain your own, and that’s okay. It could be something very personal, or you’re just trying to work something out or conduct an experiment.
But a world gains power when you bring people into it, because they make it better than you could have done on your own. They shape your creation, enhance it, amplify it.
It makes me think of one of the coolest phenomena I’ve learned about from the Occupy Wall Street movement — the people’s mic, where the crowd makes up for the lack of amplification by having an individual’s message shouted in echo by the people standing nearby. This not only enables everyone to hear the message, but actively involves the crowd in its communication.
It may have taken Lekman a few years to figure out how to let people into his world. But last night at the Armory, the power of his engagement was on full display. And his creations, his songs, buzzed with the life we fed into them.