With the crowd screaming “PBJ! PBJ!” Peter Bjorn and John took the stage again for a second encore. It was only another example of the dedication of the band that brought out the pulse of Atlanta Friday night. The crowd was an unforgiving one with high expectations, and the band did not fail to disappoint.
After dubious sound issues with an opening act and a vigorous once-over with perhaps the most attentive tech the Masquerade has ever seen (he refolded the band’s towels-twice), Peter Bjorn and John took the stage with little decorum. However, before anyone knew what was happening, the band had flung themselves whole-heartedly into the set. The crown roared as Peter Morén leapt over the photographers, and played into the crowd, dancing along the railing back and forth. PB&J moved fluidly from one song to the next, with little if any rest in between. The infectious beats filled the lungs and grounded themselves in the feet, refusing to be still. From the very first song everyone was compelled into rhythm. Looking around, from the crowd to the band, it was obvious that this is what pop of today is supposed to be.
Peter Bjorn and John, made up of Peter Morén (vocals/bass/guitars/harmonica), Bjorn Yttling (bass/vocals/keyboard), and John Eriksson (drums/vocals/percussion/guitar), all started in the small village of Bysthållare in Sweden in 1999. Their potent blend of synth-pop, nu-wave guitars, and hip-hop beats sound anything but small town. Atlanta was the first stop on their US Tour, promoting their new album, Gimme Some.
The band claims influences as broad as their music style: John Coltrane, ELO, Bob Dylan and Jay Z to name a few. PB&J expressed this best with some renditions that were not at all expected, though they were well-received by the crowd. First was a louder, heavier version of It Don’t Move Me, which was met with cheers and became one of several sing-alongs of the evening; PB&J fans are big singers, and they know every word. The second, Morén announced, saying that they had only performed the song rendition in sound check, and that Atlanta would be the first to hear it done live. It was in fact Stay this Way and the beautiful, crystalline guitar cut right through the smoke in the room, conjuring up images of a sunny California afternoon. Last but not least, and probably the most epic moment of the evening, was a stripped-down version of Nothing to Worry About, replete with Morén on harmonica, in the crowd on the floor jamming like a humble Peter Hayes. Morén then proceeded to hop back on stage to sing. Strangely, he contorts his body around in just the way one would imagine when listening to the song, the words held back with a restraint that makes the tension of a song that could easily fit in a protest march or a club stomp.
During all of these numbers, Yttling acts as a sort of back-up whenever he’s not setting the stage on fire with his bass, singing along and getting the crowd clapping. This is a band for which the word cohesive is definitely apropos, and their friendship shows through the tightness of their shows and the obvious fun going down on stage. Even Eriksson came over to interact with the crowd, randomly tapping some fans on the head with a broom after “sweeping” the stage- very different from the norm of drummers hiding in the back.
Though Peter Bjorn and John are labeled as indie rock, really what this band comes down to is exactly what was delivered in Atlanta- the best of what pop of today has to offer. Though the ‘P-word’ tends to make some cringe, conjuring up images of Britney Spears and the like, it only proves that most listeners are wholly unfamiliar with what pop is- popular music for the cusp of a generation. Peter Bjorn and John are the voice for a whole new one whose culture lines have always been blurred. In a world where rock music is dance-worthy and hip-hop cowboys roam, Peter Bjorn and John Have Nothing to Worry About.
The new album Gimme Some (Sony) is available in stores now. As of this publication, the tour will take them from the U.S. to Canada, Sweden, Slovakia, the UK, France and Hungary. Check here for a show near you.
Written by Nicole Banister