Sweden's greatest export — other than particle board furniture — is music. Dancey disco, mathematically precise metal, and dreamy indie pop, they've got it all. But at Saturday's Peter, Bjorn, & John performance at Club Nokia, Sweden may have shown one of their lesser known exports: one hit wonders.
Peter, Bjorn & John don't exactly fall into that camp — yet — but if they aren't careful, they could become victim to the Rapture syndrome, in which a great band gets buried by one fantastic song (remember “House of Jealous Lovers”?).
Peter, Bjorn & John's phenomenal 2006 album, Writer's Block, got indie mopers dancing with beat heavy rock, and besieged indie radio, music blogs and commercials with the best whistle-based song* (probably) ever, “Young Folks.”
Soon after, advertisers for websites, mall retailers, and shows about gossiping girls latched onto the song — kind of like that fish that attaches on to sharks (Remora brachyptera). The tactic worked for many indie bands transitioning to the mainstream. Deathcab for Cutie, to cite another example, became a household name through cleverly marketed television integration. But Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Eriksson, the task has been to emerge from the shadow of “Young Folks.”
The show began in darkness, the only light glowing from the blue text reading “backdrop” on the (you guessed it) stage backdrop. As the trio broke into the melodic “Amsterdam” the lights glowed red, revealing the faces of singer/vocalist Morén and bassist Yttling. They announced the show as their 10th birthday and brought out guests throughout the night.
The 21 members of the L.A. Ladies Choir joined in for a lush “Nothing to Worry About”; Lykke Li accompanied Moren's whistles on “Young Folks,” and Foreign Born's Matt Popieluch contributed to a noisy breakdown before the band exited the stage. These additions would have bolstered the energy of many bands, but somehow, the show lacked energy.
The seemingly short set continued when PB+J returned to the stage to play more songs from their earlier albums. [These, however, didn't seem to resonate with the crowd, who were either nonplussed with the decidedly non-indie surroundings of the Finnish phone company Nokia's “club” or who were unfamiliar with the band's back catalog.
PB+J's follow up to Writer's Block, Living Things, received some critical praise, but mostly lacked the beats that drove the preceding album. Many songs on Living Things felt like they were trying avoid the incitement to dance. So when these songs were played live, they were so skeletal they almost disappeared. At times, just Yttling's minimal bassline, and Moren's detached vocals could be heard. These stripped down songs slowed so much that they even stopped mid-song once.
Will this weird performance cool the Swedes momentum? Probably not, and it certainly won't lessen the value of the incredibly catchy songs of “Writer's Block,” but without reinvention and energy, PB+J won't last long.