Playing their first *headlining show in Tampa, Sweden's Peter, Bjorn, & John proved they are capable of so much more than just "that whistling song."
On this tour, there were no background vocals, no synths, no nostalgic echoes, and no effects; just stripped-down bouncy energy and in-your-face drums. They still included songs from nearly every one of their albums, though the majority were drawn from this year's Gimme Some. The album touches on many different influences, much like the trio themselves, and its variations are even more evident in a live setting as the band hopped seamlessly between punk thrash, cowbells and claps, Afro-pop, and a post punk aesthetic.
Though all three Swedes take turns on vocals, they have distinctly different stage personas. Guitarist Peter Morén's energy is genuine and contagious. As lead vocalist, he's clean-cut and endlessly cheerful; bouncing several feet off the ground while making exaggerated faces and chatting up the crowd. Bassist Bjorn Yttling is the polar opposite, calling to mind a bearded and slightly disheveled Jason Schwartzman. He contributes the lower register vocals, and those killer basslines that tie every song together. John Eriksson, on drums, was all smiles and subtlety. His effortless skill building the driving rhythms on Gimme Some seem like nothing at all while he also provides most of the vocal harmonies. The trio takes turns whistling as well, the sonic element that rocketed them to fame in the first place.
The setlist was light on selections from Living Thing. It's a difficult album for the threesome to play live, packed with audio effects and keys nearly impossible to repeat in a traditional set-up. They surprisingly included as many songs from their 2004 album, Falling Out, as they did from their breakthrough Writer's Block. Though I'd never heard the trio's early material before, "It Beats Me Every Time" was one of the evening highlights. Peter's voice was eerily reminiscent of John Lennon with echoes of the 1980s influence so prevalent on the new album.
Crowd favorite and band hit "Young Folks" was wisely sandwiched in the middle. It loses some of its poignancy without the back-and-forth of the female vocals, but none of its catchy charm. Of course, everyone whistled along; it's impossible not to.
Among the other high points: an extended version of the dark and dreamy "May Seem Macabre," and what Peter called a power ballad, "Down Like Me." I think this one could've easily been yanked from the soundtrack of a John Hughes film, its perfect alt-80's melancholy wrapping around a solid hook. The live version started much slower and quieter than its recorded counterpart, kicking up the volume and tempo on the second verse as the urgency in the vocals rose.
The encore included two simple sing-alongs, "Just the Past" (la, la, la, la, la) and "Dig A Little Deeper" (woah-oh, oh oh) before PB&J launched into the slightly punk "Black Book" and closed with another whistler from Writer's Block, "Objects of My Affection."
Peter, Bjorn & John are capable showman who are able to translate their continuous experimentation well to the stage, and enjoy themselves while they're doing it, which is far more contagious than a whistled chorus.
Tomorrow Has to Wait
Far Away By My Side
It Beats Me Every Time
May Seem Macabre
Down Like Me
Just The Past
Dig A Little Deeper
Objects Of My Affection