Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner
Peter Bjorn and John: 17 March 2009 - New York, W Hotel
After an awkwardly scripted, but hilariously oblivious, introduction by the night’s host Bryan Michael Cox, Peter Bjorn and John took the stage at their “Wonderlust” W Hotel gig. Their physical and musical presence was highly anticipated, not having performed in the US for a year and their fifth album, Living Thing, arriving March 31.
Playing mostly new songs from Living Thing, their sound adhered to the stripped-down minimalist indie pop of past albums -- namely the excellent Writer’s Block. But now, in their sparse arrangements, synthetic sounds dominated. Peter Moren hammered away at a keyboard while John Eriksson eschewed a drum throne and kit, instead standing in front of a shelf of sampling pads, drums and cymbals while kicking a bass drum to his right. Compared to their listless photo op upon entering the venue, the trio was animated and energetic, excited to be performing new music. In a bit of role reversal Björn Yttling played keyboard while Moren slashed away on bass for “I Want You!”
Peter Bjorn and John joined the Catchy-Kids-Chorus-Club with “Nothing To Worry About”. Gorgeous minor-soaked melodies scratched against Eastern flute samples and a heavy beat before Moren’s voice took over. It was the first point in the set at which everyone in the crowd was dancing and seemed to have a clue as to what the Swedes were up to. On “It Don’t Move Me”, Yttling echoed the same piano sounds he created as producer on Lykke Li’s “I’m Good, I’m Gone”. Also the intro on title track “Living Thing” had hints of Moren’s Swedish rockabilly roots.
A few of the band’s songs were a departure from the irrepressibly catchy, but intriguing, melodies PB and J have accustomed themselves to. At some points they seemed to be veering towards the current post punk trend, one that dishevels their tight sound. Ending with “Object Of My Affection”, however, they played with precisely the type of above punk ethos their music -- and facial hair -- emanates.
Forty minutes later they finished with a single encore, “Young Folks”. I thought it was a bit 2007, and would have definitely preferred the “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” Moren flaunted at a Mercury Lounge show a year ago.