"People think it’s always winter in Sweden, but it’s not this cold in Stockholm!" Peter Morén was actually talking about Friday’s barely-double-digit temperatures. Cliche or not, it did seem fitting that the first real snowfall of the season happened on the same night as Peter Bjorn and John‘s stateside debut at Union Hall in Park Slope, and their reception was anything but chilly.
This was actually a "practice" gig for PB&J’s shows at Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom. They were playing under the name "At the Sea" though word leaked on Friday as to who it really was. The real secret was how anyone got tickets (some were made available via presales of their album at Other Music; the rest…?) but despite the hype around this week’s shows, there was no frenzy around getting in, no giant lines, no drama.
It felt to me like the right place to see them, in a lot of ways. Without "Young Folks," Peter Bjorn and John would probably be yet another excellent Swedish band that few outside of indie circles would have cared about. But what with the bongos, whistling, Victoria Bergsman’s guest vocals and the irresistible chorus, the Stockholm trio have been catapulted into the limelight. Had they played here in September or October, it surely would have been the highlight of show. Tonight, "Young Folks" sort of felt like the elephant in the room. When would they play it? (Mid-set.) Would Victoria be there? (Not tonight.) Would it be the only song anyone knew? (Happy to say, no.) Would it disappoint?
"Young Folks" is certainly not representative of what PB&J do. Most of their songs have more of a ’60s feel and they have more in common with the Raevonettes or Crowded House or the Trash Can Sinatras. But it was obvious that the crowd — at least tonight — was not just there to hear "Young Folks." And as good as it was, it was in no way the night’s highlight.
Actually, the whole show was great, much better than I expected. The set featured most of Writer’s Block (finally out here Feb. 6) — including "Let’s Call it Off"; a percussion-free version of "Amsterdam" (aka the other whistling song); the lovely "Paris 2004" and the noisy "Objects of My Affection." There were also a few number from 2005’s Falling Out and at least one from their 2001 self-titled debut.
Despite their earned reputation as popsmiths, the best songs of the night were hands-down the raucous numbers, like "Far Away, By My Side" or "I Don’t Know What I Want Us To Do." But hands-down the show’s highlight was "Up Against the Wall" which was sort of like a cross between The Wedding Present and New Order, blazed past the ten minute mark and just kind of tore the place down.
I was really impressed by the musicianship, especially drummer John Eriksson. I mentioned New Order, and I think a lot of that comes from his style that is reminiscent of Steven Morris — simple (his kit was a kick, snare, floor tom, crash and high-hat), yet clockwork-like and relentless. He also had an octapad, from which he played most of the keyboards, like the harpsichord bit in "Paris 2004." He also triggered prerecorded whistling for "Young Folks" — though Morén performed them live overtop, there were other times where he had to sing while whistling was in the background. Bongos, however, were live… thanks to guest bongoist Lars.
Union Hall is an intimate venue, though the stage isn’t really elevated, so I wonder what it’s like for anyone more than five people back – especially for anyone on the short side. Despite having tickets for the Mercury Lounge show I was glad I took my chances on getting in tonight. Well worth it. For those of you attending either of the two remaining shows, those who might only know one song, here are a couple more to learn and shout out while everyone else is waiting for you-know-what…
There were plenty of cameras at the show, but not much has shown up on Flickr, apart from some by forklift, two of which I forklifted and combined above.
Update: Here’s my review of PB&J’s Mercury Lounge show.