Peter Bjorn and John keep it fun at the Paradise

A review of Peter, Bjorn & John at the Paradise Rock Club on April 28, 2009

, Staff Writer

Hailing from Stockholm, Peter Bjorn & John have developed a name for themselves by consistently producing indie pop that demonstrates a wide palette of sound: the trio weaves through, among others, straight up rock, 80s electronic, and dense shoegaze soundscapes. About a week after a “super fun” stint at this year’s Coachella festival, the Swedes dropped in on Boston, and gave a performance at the Paradise that was by no means ground-shaking but nonetheless enjoyable and fun to attend.

Against a backdrop that simply read “backdrop” in white text against a black background, the band took the stage as a dense synth pad pulsated through the venue. A very 80s beat began to push the momentum forward, and the band went into the somewhat minimalist song “Just The Past” off their new album Living Thing. Clad in a sharp sports coat and designer jeans, lead singer Peter Moren immediately brought the spotlight on himself, moving fluidly to the music and singing with impeccable pitch. From there, drummer John Eriksson took a turn on vocals for a rendition of “Start To Melt”. The difference in aesthetic between the two songs that began the set was notable, as “Melt” had much more of an indie anthem feel to it. The song marched along triumphantly, building to a raucous explosion on top of which Peter laid down an impressive wailing guitar solo.

In his own words, Peter was dressed “like a Swedish king,” though there was nothing regal about the band’s performance. They would unabashedly hop around on stage, running back and forth from one side to the other, Peter on occasion leaning out into the crowd and playing his guitar literally inches from the faces of those in the very front. “It Beats Me Every Time” continued the trend of indie pop, the& slightly Smiths-esque chorus perfectly appropriate for lyrical content such as “What am I supposed to do when I don’t care?” Bjorn and John provided solid vocal harmonies throughout the set, singing in impressively high ranges.

It was the second-to-last song when the inevitable performance of “Young Folks” hit (you know the one – it’s the whistling song). It was cool to see both Peter and John whistle the way-too-catchy hook perfectly. They were both able to project the melody through their microphones at a perfect volume that allowed it to soar above the rest of the song, and I imagine whistling into a microphone and projecting is a bit of a challenge. The three seemed a little tired of having to play their big hit, though: the song was played, sure, but there wasn’t much energy put into it. That didn’t stop the audience, filled largely with drunken college students, to go nuts and press forward and sing along to every word. Right before the final chorus the band ground the song to a complete halt and slowly began to build it up again, increasing in speed and sound until letting loose to close it out.

Another highlight was “Let’s Call It Off”, which the band claimed was a rip off of The Sound of Music, though admittedly I couldn’t tell if they were messing with us or not. The song is pretty straightforward indie fare, a driving bassline, basic vocal harmonies, a slightly twangy guitar effect. The set closed with “Objects of My Affection”, appropriately, as the song is one filled with bombast, huge guitars and a relentless march from the drums. The trio took the opportunity to mess with the time, rubber banding here and there, and even going a cappella at one point before bringing everything to a crashing conclusion.

What followed felt like the longest encore ever. They began with “Stay This Way”, a “make out song” off Living Things. Peter at this point had changed into shorts and a nice button-down shirt. The encore continued with “Nothing To Worry About”, complete with the sample of children singing the song’s refrain. This would have been a fine point to end the show on a well-known, catchy and happy song. Well, to close things off, the band settled on “Up Against The Wall”, which really felt like two or three songs. After the main section, they settled into a jam that got pretty boring after a while. This is not a band that is known for its instrumental prowess, and to listen to them groove on the same progression for five minutes straight with little change got pretty old. Thankfully Peter let things build to a loud, almost post-rock-y ending as he repeated “dance to the radio” over and over again.

Peter Bjorn & John are a band that is clearly quite comfortable playing for a crowd, but in spite of this there was little present to really distinguish the concert from any number of similar acts out there right now. PB&J (yeah, yeah) were goofy and endearing, messing with each other and the audience, often looking off into space and smiling as they played, but musically they are nothing we haven’t heard before. 80s rhythms have been apparently required in indie music for the past four years or so, and a well-dressed lead singer, or a bearded drummer with a skull cap, or a moppy-haired bassist have become well-worn clichés. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with what the group is or what they do musically, but I would argue that their heyday has passed.

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