From Sweden with love: Peter Bjorn and John stop by the Twin Cities

By Aaron Brown

The comparisons between Swedish indie pop band Peter Bjorn and John, and Swedish furniture outlet Ikea are a little too accurate for me not to make some smartass wisecrack at the beginning of this article. Both are seen as modern, Euro-chic entities successful for emphasizing being young and lively and fitting in well in a college dorm, both are on the cutting edge of fashion and affordability, and both are successfully invading the realm of Europhilic liberal American pop culture.

While I don’t believe anyone camped out in front of First Avenue to buy a ticket for PB&J the same way people will when Ikea opens a new branch, one would have had to have lived under a rock in the past year to not have heard the irritatingly catchy, cutesy single “Young Folks,” which my local radio station played roughly every 24 minutes. Despite the achingly boring opener acts such as the Clientele (at best described as a step up from elevator music), despite the unenthusiastic audience one would expect on a Monday night, and despite the occasionally missed pitches by lead singer Peter Morn, the raw excitable energy and gusto of this hyper-sophisticated European pop band was almost unparalleled in contemporary music. I can only imagine that the band downed a handful of Red Bulls before taking the stage; the whirling mid-air kicks, the ill-advised crowd-surfing and the numerous lyrical references to Paris and Amsterdam exuded an atmosphere of part indie-rock concert and part small European discothŠque.As a big fan of the poppy, electronic feel of 2006’s hit album “Writer’s Block,” I was surprised to discover that PB&J are, in fact, a traditional guitar/bass/drums trio and not a collection of computer-software-running geeks or drum-machine aficionados; hearing their songs live adds a completely human dimension to the music not present on the album, and the bass line and guitar riffs serve as surprisingly good supplements for the electronic sounds of the album.

This human dimension, of course, has its flaws; the vocals sounded a lot more muddled live and the pitch was all over the map. The sheer caffeinated enthusiasm of the band onstage, however, indefinitely outweighs any minor advantages afforded in the studio, as evidenced in the endearing lyrics in “Paris 2004” or the incredible 10+ minute encore finale “Up Against the Wall.” It was as though the song wouldn’t die; each pause and would-be ending in the music afforded the opportunity to continue the song, and the antics of the band rose to an even higher level of euphoric exuberance.

As the show ended, my mind eventually wandered back to Ikea. Just like my first visit to the enormous conglomerate warehouse, I left First Avenue feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, jealous of the sophisticated Euro-chic I had witnessed, and eagerly awaiting my next Swedish cultural experience.