"What we're doing up here is very simple," Peter Moren, singer-guitarist for Swede trio Peter Bjorn and John, said Thursday night onstage in New York City, "and that's playing our new record."
"Simple" was the evening's magic word. At their first U.S. show in support of their sixth LP, Gimme Some (out March 29), the band introduced a crowd of 150 in the tiny basement of Santos Party House to their album's 11 pop and punk tracks, in no particular order.
Inspired by PB&J's favorite groups, including R.E.M., the Damned, and the Buzzcocks, and produced by Sweden's Per Sunding (The Cardigans), the tunes are a stylistic about-face from the electro sounds of 2009's Living Thing. "This time around we had the clear idea of going back to basics -- guitar, bass, drums," Moren recently told SPIN.
Their set was a testament to their songwriting prowess. Each Gimme Some track is full of tricks from pop's playbook -- snappy pre-choruses, whistle-worthy melodies, shadow backing vocals. It's like Ikea and PB&J crafted an instruction guide for building pop's nuts and bolts into super catchy songs. And the best part is that PB&J have a lot of fun playing them.
"Second Chance" was spring-loaded with staccato guitar riffs, an upbeat vocal melody, and enough cowbell to please Will Ferrell; "Eyes" swiveled on a 1950s teen-pop vibe with a big backbeat; "Breaker Breaker" was a pop-punk blitz with fuzz-bomb bass and a rising melody; "Dig a Little Deeper" was an upbeat surf-pop number with hip-shaking grooves and a bubbly guitar riff. Most tracks were distilled to a snappy two or two and a half minutes.
One of the best tracks was "(Don't Let Them) Cool Off," a dangerous-sounding power-pop blast of jangling guitar, driving bass, and Moren's snide vocals attacking the Swedish Royal Family. "We all agree that a country like Sweden, a democracy, shouldn't have a royal family," Moren told SPIN.
Other highlights in a set that, in itself, was a highlight, included two snappy jams: "Lies," a whirlwind tune with a hyper-melodic guitar chorus that wouldn't sound out of place on Superchunk's new album; and the proto-punk robo rocker "Black Book," sung by John. Free of vocal duties, Moren played guitar hero, hopping around onstage and handing out giant foam pointer-fingers, like those you'd see a professional sports game, emblazoned with the band's name and three illustrated thumbs-ups, one for each member. "Pretend we're the Lakers," he joked.
For an encore, the trio played "Let's Call It Off," from their breakout 2006 album Writer's Block (yes, the LP with "Young Folks," which they didn't play), with a ratcheted-up energy and punk bluster. "It's very similar to the others," Bjorn joked of the song. "We were thinking of putting it on the new album, too!"
They closed the hour-long show with a raucous cover of "When You Find Out," a power-pop love song from the '70s band the Nerves, one of their inspirations for Gimme Some. It was a look at PB&J's new sonic blueprint. Their motto: Less is always more.
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