“A couple years ago we made an album called Living Thing and when we toured we used some ‘sythesizers’ and ‘soundbanks’,” Peter Moren told the Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd as Bjorn Ytlling provided air-quotes. “It’s just us this time. Plus, those synths were bad for the environment. Let’s kill electro!”
This approach is also true with Peter Bjorn and John‘s new album, Gimme Some, that has no synthesizers or soundbanks just three Swedish dudes playing some insanely catchy songs with an energy that belies their age. It was this re-energized PBJ we got at MHoW on Tuesday night, playing for over 90 minutes. Peter Moren, in particular, was a bundle of energy, deploying flying leaps and Townsend-style windmills and even jumping into crowd for a stripped-down, harmonica driven version of Living Thing‘s “Nothing to Worry About.”
As to Living Thing, while not a terrible thing to do, the ambitious record did lack in the basic PB&J-ness that made people fans of the band in the first place. Tonight, what songs they did from that album were reworked into the lean mean pop machine format favored on Gimme Some to terriffic results. “It Don’t Move Me,” was given a “Curtis Mayfield treatment” which worked great. There are some great tunes hidden amongst that album’s studio trickery.
This was kind of an odd show, setwise, at least from the standpoint of someone who’s seen them many times before. They opened with Writer’s Block‘s epic indie rock workout “Up Against the Wall,” a song almost always saved as their last song of the night. To me it seemed like a statement of intent: “Here’s the song where we usually pull out all the stops. Expect us to keep it up the whole damn show.” And they did, even if occasionally it seemed maybe, just a little bit, forced.
But Swedish bands tend to be on the showy side anyway. (Ever seen Soundtrack of Our Lives?) And who cares, really? Showmanship is not a bad thing, and neither is being able to play your instruments which PB&J truly do. I can barely sing and play guitar at the same time. Moren was knocking out leads in mid-air. And double who cares when you have so many great songs. I think they played the whole of Gimme Some, plus about half of Writer’s Block, and a couple from Living Thing. (Nothing from the first two albums I don’t think.)
Someone yelled for “Young Folks” during the first encore and Bjorn, he of the arid wit, replied something like “You can buy it at the merch table” but of course you can’t not do your biggest (only) genuine hit. So it was no surprise when that drum roll started their final number of the evening. It was, however, a surprise when co-star Victoria Bergsman came out on stage to sing with the band. I’m pretty sure she lives in Williamsburg these days, so it shouldn’t have been so unexpected but she wasn’t at the Bowery shows the night before. Maybe she didn’t have a Metrocard.
Gimme Some is maybe, just maybe, PB&J’s best album, the most consistently listenable from start to finish. Smart move of Bjorn to hand over production reigns to Per Sundig (of the late, great Eggstone) to keep them in the garage, so to speak. Hooks this big don’t need flashy production. Or even whistling.