(2 May 2011: Bowery Ballroom New York)
The Swedish indie rock band Peter Bjorn and John (affectionately abbreviated as PB&J) began their three show New York visit with the drumbeat intro of “May Be Macabre” off the latest release, Gimme Some. They explained in recent interviews that these new songs were created with the idea of bringing the high energy of their live shows into the studio, so to see them performed was an interesting twist. But they left behind their synthesizers to lighten the load, reduce the burden of their carbon footprint, and showcase their power pop roots. Strings of shifting colored bulbs provided the light show and the cartoon fist giving a three-thumbs up from the latest album artwork provided the backdrop.
Peter Morén’s lead vocals floated over the venue with a hint of John Lennon and he even tousled his mop top hair around now and then. But he was instantly engaging the crowd, showing when to add handclaps to get things going and cupping his ear asking for applause, even jumping down twice with a mic to sing from the floor. Just a few songs in, he was jumping like Pete Townshend and doing a take on the duck walk with his guitar—by the encore his head was bloodied by the thrashing yet he never reached for the towel. Bass player Björn Yttling also mouthed words to encourage audience participation while they both wandered the edge of the stage to rev up the audience with wide smiles of pop stars. Back at the drum kit, John Eriksson threw his sticks and hopped on his stool, all while rocking the rhythm of the various offerings. Jackets came off with all the activity on stage and you even had to wonder how the group would keep up the energy to make it through the late show.
Along with the catchy single “Second Chance”, other new songs introduced included “Eyes”, “Dig a Little Deeper” and the punky “Black Book”. An extended version of “Nothing to Worry About”, off of 2009’s Living Thing, led nicely into the echoing vocals of “Call It Off” from 2007’s Writer’s Block. The set ended with the psychedelic vocals and wandering guitar melody of another new song, “I Know You Don’t Love Me”. Their familiarity with each other’s playing and personality clearly came across throughout the show as Morén and Yttling have been playing together since high school, but been together as trio with Eriksson since 1999 – all long history for any band.
There were two encores. The first had Morén telling the crowd, “You guys are really swell you know”, then digging into the sweet song reminiscing about “Paris 2004”. The band tore through more new songs before bringing out the whistling for “Young Folks” in the second encore. Though this may have been how most of the crowd learned about PB&J, there was instant love for their latest music as well. “Young Folks” introduced the band to the American indie scene but the infectious, cheery tune doesn’t define this group; they rock it hard with tightly wound compositions more reminiscent of the Jam or Elvis Costello. One additional song, the raucous “Lies”, packed the final punch. A gal pushed past me as I was scribbling some details and yelled in my ear, “You better write how they fuckin’ rocked!”. Done.