Peter Bjorn and John + El Perro del Mar: 12 November 2009 - Metro, Chicago / Words and Pictures by Allison Taich
I am a total outsider to Swedish pop-rock. My knowledge and interest barely touches ABBA’s catalog, let alone the more contemporary Peter Bjorn and John. From the bands I have heard, which are limited and obvious, I have not been sold. Armed with this mentality, I walked into the Metro whistling their catchy 2006 hit, “Young Folks,” and not quite knowing what to expect from the trio.
First, however, was opener, and fellow Swede, El Perro del Mar, better known as singer/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Assbring. Backed by a band for the occasion, Assbring’s voice was pretty, but not powerful; it had an innocent falsetto quality rather than body and range. Most of her songs centered on love and relationships, which I found tiresome, but her backing band, especially the bass, proved captivating. The bass kept songs moving with intricate licks--not unlike Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Part 1).” It came to my attention, after the fact, that Assbring had recently released her third full-length, album appropriately titled Love is Not Pop. Apparently she performed nearly the entire album out of order during her 40-minute set which would explain the whole relationship emphasis.
Between bands I was chatted up by a gentleman who claimed to have ties to PB and J through a family connection. Learning that I was there to review the show, he told me not to write anything negative about the band or show--but if I had to, to only criticize “the whistling song,” or “Young Folks.” I naturally obliged, eye-rolls and all.
Despite the paternal disclaimer PB and J were not the band I was expecting. Part of it probably had to do with the fact that the band was celebrating their tenth anniversary, and so in honor of their musical milestone they thrashed around the stage with reckless energy. In fact they were rocking out twice as hard as their fans, showing some love and dedication. At times they were slightly goofy, particularly guitarist, and lead singer, Peter Morén, who appeared to jitterbug across stage on multiple occasions. Skipping and jumping every which way around stage, he reminded me of an Angus Young.
The music itself was light and sweet, indie-pop ballads that became amped up and livened by the band’s vigor. Frequently Morén would instigate the audience to clap to drummer John Eriksson’s perpetual rhythmic punches, accentuating several songs. Most of the selections were from this year's Living Thing, though they still indulged in the signature hit “Young Folks.” Doing a fine job of filling the female part in “Young Folks” was Assbring.
The show climaxed with the syncopated but heavy-handed playground-chorus of “Nothing to Worry About,” with a guest appearance from rapper Hollywood Holt. Overall I was surprised with my first PB and J experience. Between their attitudes and stage presences, the band stirred-up and energized normally dainty and uninspiring songs.