The Swedish Indie Rock band Peter Bjorn & John (affectionately abbreviated as PB&J) began their three show New York visit with the drumbeat intro of “May Be Macabre” off the latest release, Gimme Some. It’s been explained in recent interviews that these new songs were created with the idea of bringing the high energy of their live shows into the studio, so to see them performed was an interesting twist. They left behind their synthesizers to lighten the load, reduce the burden of their carbon footprint, and showcase their power pop roots.
Peter Morén’s lead vocals floated over the venue with a hint of John Lennon and he even tousled his mop top hair around now and then. But he was instantly engaging the crowd, showing when to add handclaps to get things going and cupping his ear asking for applause, even jumping down twice with a mike to sing from the floor. Just a few songs in he was jumping like Pete Townsend and doing a take on the duck walk with his guitar – by the encore his head was bloodied by the thrashing. Bass player Björn Yttling also mouthed words to encourage audience participation and they both wandered the edge of the stage to rev up the audience with wide smiles of pop stars. Back at the drum kit John Eriksson threw sticks and hopped on his stool, all while rocking the rhythm of the various offerings. Jackets came off with all this activity on stage and you had to wonder how the group would even make it through the late show. Strings of colored bulbs changing color provided the light show and the cartoon fist giving a three-thumbs up from the latest album artwork provided the backdrop. Morén and Yttling have been playing together since high school but the trio with Eriksson has lasted since 1999 – all long history for any band. The familiarity of each other’s playing and personality clearly came across throughout the show.
Along with the catchy single “Second Chance,” other new songs introduced included “Eyes,” “Dig A Little Deeper” and the punky “Black Book.” An extended version of “Nothing to Worry About” off of 2009’s Living Thing, led nicely into the echoing vocals of “Call It Off” from 2007’s Writer’s Block. The set ended with the psychedelic vocals and wandering guitar melody of another new song, “I Know You Don’t Love Me.”
There were two encores, the first had Morén telling the crowd, “You guys are really swell you know,” then digging into the sweet song reminiscing about “Paris 2004.” The band tore through more new songs before bringing out the whistling for “Young Folks” in the second encore. This may be how most of the crowd learned about PB&J but there was instant love for their latest music as well. "Young Folks" introduced the band to the American indie scene but the infectious, cheery tune doesn’t define this group that rocks it hard with tightly wound compositions more reminiscent of The Jam or Elivis Costello. One additional song, the raucous “Lies,” packed a final punch. A gal pushed past me as I was scribbling some details and yelled in my ear, “You better write how they fuckin’ rocked!” Done.