After delivering one of the most catchy songs of the past decade, which in turn opened the door on much of the band’s earlier works, it’s safe to say expectations were placed high on Peter Bjorn and John. A song like “Young Folks” can be seen as both a blessing and a curse for a band. This track was surrounded by a stellar album and found it’s way through several different outlets from major sitcom placements and commercials, to Kanye West tracks giving definition to the term “breakthrough hit.” The Swedish indie-pop trio followed up with a forgettable effort in 2009 (Living Thing) where the cheeriness and optimism of their earlier releases was stripped back, and replaced by digital effects and a less embraceable tones. With Gimme Some, released in March 2011, PB & J went back to basics, producing 11 well-crafted pop songs with a much more upbeat feel than the album’s predecessor.
Towards the end of last night’s show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, Peter Morén – guitarist and singer for Peter Bjorn and John (yes, those are actually the first names of the band members) said that they had left their synthesizers and much other digital equipment at home in attempt to be more green. It certainly seemed like their sunnier disposition was back throughout the show, which focused heavily on material from Gimme Some. Peter was joined on stage by Björn Yttling (bass and vocals) and John Eriksson (drums, percussion, vocals) for the first of three sold out shows in New York City (they were also slated to play later that same night at the same venue as well as Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg the following night) before embarking on a tour that will bring them through much of the United States and then back to Europe in June.
The show kicked off with “May Seem Macabre,” off of Gimme Some. While their studio tracks come off as finely polished pop numbers, Peter Bjorn and John seem to retain much more of an edge live, with garage like sounds and even a lean towards punk. Björn’s thumping bass-line continues to climb throughout this song while Peter’s guitar intricately noodles its way to a climax; all while performing a great vocal impression of Elvis Costello.
“Second Chance” is fittingly one of the tracks off of the new album that shines and it was a treat to hear this one come to life as well. This song could easily be perceived as auto-biographical, with lyrics cherishing a second shot for glory and the fragile nature of it. On this track in particular you can hear PB & J embracing the same techniques that made “Young Folks” such a hit – in place of the ever-so-catchy whistling we have “oohs” and “ahs” and even some cowbell.
One of the highlights of the set came when the heavy-hitting bassline of “Let’s Call it Off” emerged. Although this song never quite soared to the same heights as “Young Folks,” it is clearly a favorite amongst the fans and even found it’s way into the Drake track of the same name off of his mixtape So Far Gone. This song really resonates live, with a lengthy intro that builds into a call and response between each line of the verse and Björn’s bass which culminates in all members of the band chiming in for the chorus. The hour long set was came to a close with “I Know You Don’t Love Me,” which switches the lead vocal duties to Björn, while Peter is given more room to explore with his guitar riffs and really take off. Pete Townshend would certainly be impressed with the jumping heights that Peter is able to achieve during his peaks.
Peter Bjorn and John re-emerged for two encores lasting another 30 minutes which included some more tracks off of Gimme Some as well as a bluesy take on “Down Like Me.” With the completion of that track came a drumroll from John which kicked off “Young Folks.” You may think that a band would grow a little tired of this song after some time, but PB & J are well aware of the exposure that this song has provided for them and played this with a tremendous amount of energy. Credit to Peter for hitting the whistling portion perfectly; thankfully the sound was way above some of the audience member’s half assed attempts at these parts.
The band closed out with “Lies,” another stand-out from Gimme Some, before retreating backstage for some rest before their late night show at the same venue. Their new album is much more engaging than it’s predecessor and it was refreshing to see how enthusiastic Peter Bjorn and John were throughout the entire performance, which saw the former of the three, go into the crowd several times. In “Second Chance” the chorus goes on to say “You can’t can’t count on a second chance, but second try will always come home.” PB & J’s return to their roots is no doubt successful and it should be interesting to watch as they continue to explore.
By Jesse Zryb