In all the press shots for their new album, Swedish indie rock veterans Peter Bjorn and John are decked out in custom jumpsuits and armed with cartoon tools. They look like they are ready for a day of work at the zaniest garage or gear shop that you've ever seen. And yet, the imagery is fitting, perhaps more fitting than any image of the band they've put forth in their whole career. "Our new album is called Breakin' Point", remarked Peter Morén in between songs. "We break things apart and then we put them back together again, and then we come and show them to you in Seattle", he laughed, "that's our job - that's what we do". In the most basic terms, yes, this is exactly what Peter Bjorn and John have done for fifteen years. Breaking apart familiar pop materials of the past, they restructure and refurbish them into vibrant, cartoony wonders with which to dazzle crowd after crowd. It's a formula that has worked for years, always benefitting those that have done their Swedish pop homework, and simultaneously inviting new ears wherever their whistling melodies might find you. Together with Austin electronic act Bayonne and San Francisco singer Jay Som, Peter Bjorn and John brought us to the breakin' point just to drop one domino after another of blissful Swedish pop majesty.It's not at all hard to see the attraction for Peter Bjorn and John's openers this evening. With Morén's work with heartwrenching songwriters like Lykke Li, San Francisco songwriter Jay Som is a shoe in for the crowd present. Melina Duterte writes intimate bedroom pop music not unlike that of Waxahatchee, but the bay area obsession with dreamy guitar textures adds a wash of watercolors to her melancholy. Jay Som got some solid buzz earlier this year with 7" single "I Think You're Alright", a painful but endearing love letter to someone woefully ignorant of her love. This single preceded full length album Turn Into, which you should definitely check out for its mixture of sounds and layers of songwriting goodness. While she records her records solo, Duterte's live band was a lot of fun, breaking up the pace when the melancholy began to feel heavy. Altogether, Jay Som's opening set was a lovely procession for the splendor yet to come.
Austin electronic producer Roger Sellers hit a breakthrough this year with Mom + Pop records giving distribution to his 2014 album Primitives under new stage name Bayonne. Sellers knew the album was magic, and thankfully, now the rest of the world does too. Sellers has gotten to tour extensively off the record, including a lauded set at this year's Sasquatch music festival. The set was so good, in fact, that several of the crowd members this evening were vocal about their attendance being primarily for Bayonne's set. And lest there were any skeptics beforehand, Sellers made it clear that he is a name to watch once he hit the stage. moving between a live drum setup to loop and a table full of gear, Sellers concocted mass spectrums of sound and vision out of thin air. His live antics take after acts like Dan Deacon, where part of the fun for the crowd is just seeing how Sellers fits all the pieces together by the time the song ends. Where Jay Som brought the songwriting, Bayonne brought the spectral deconstruction. And together, they form the basis for Breakin' Point, giving us the perfect introduction to Peter Bjorn and John's call to action.
After the band's solid set of Breakin' Point material earlier in the day on KEXP, it was exciting to hear the new tunes in their full form here at Neumos. At KEXP, the band played as a trio, trimming the fat off of Breakin' Point's complex arrangements to show off the songs for exactly what they are. But as soon as the band dropped into "The Long Goodbye" on stage at Neumos, it was clear that this evening was going to feature some impossibly lush pop textures. I don't know how Peter Bjorn and John do it, but their sound invokes images and locations far from the humdrum American city life. There's a certain self awareness about it, content with a bit of melancholy and a certain chill to the air, and yet, optimistic in its anticipation for the new day. As the band move into "What Are You Talking About?" and "Hard Sleep", the feeling only grows. It's clear from the beginning, they want to bring us to their world, as opposed to them stepping into ours. Complete with costumes on stage and an addictive personality, the crowd doesn't take much coaxing.
While it would be fine and dandy if Peter Bjorn and John were just great musicians, they are also phenomenal fun. The trio's onstage interactions and plays off of each other are second to none. Being that the INGRID art collective (including the band, along with Lykke Li, Andrew Wyatt, and others) is based in Stockholm, the group obviously loves to poke fun at the American perception of European culture and output. "Flea came up to me this one time", Bjorn reminisced in perfect monotone, "and he said, 'You know what the best thing is about Sweden other than IKEA? The Hagstrom bass!'". He held his own Hagstrom high and smiled ever so slightly. Later, Peter went on a solid five minute drawl about why the band hasn't changed their name to include the touring members of the band, Klaus and Freya. "It's like, what would it be like if we changed our names to Blood Sweat and Tears?" he pondered, "Which goes first? Blood?". John leans into his microphone. "I loved First Blood." Nothing but pure comedic gold from these guys. A stand up comedy trio might serve well for a side hustle.
Thankfully, the trio have plenty of reason to stick with their day jobs. Their records may show off timeless pop charm and tact, but live, the band find copious opportunities to remind the crowd that they are masters of their individual crafts. With the help of Klaus on synthesizers ("He's like those guys from Kraftwerk and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark", Peter exclaimed) and Freya on backing vocals and acoustic guitar, the new Breakin' Point tunes sounded absolutely lush, fleshed out to maximum sonic capacity and rippling with more sugary warmth than an ABBA song. But later on, when the band broke into their last album, 2011's Gimme Some, they stripped the setup down to three members and shredded like there was no tomorrow. On "Eyes", for example, Bjorn and Peter's bass and guitar interplay was delightful, with Morén taking a solid extra minute at the end to rip into an ecstatic and trackless solo. While it's lovely to hear the band's full catalogue in vibrant, five-man strong technicolor, it's these trio numbers where you really see why these three form a near perfect trifecta. Morén's spastic antics are countered eloquently by Yttling's calm and collected bass thumping. Meanwhile, John has an eye in either direction, playing off of both Bjorn and Peter perfectly, accenting each deserving highlight and otherwise, keeping feet tapping in increasing rapidity.
A few months ago, the world celebrated 10 years of "Young Folks", the band's international spotlight moment of ageless content and blissful simplicity. Placed second in a four song encore, the crowd had a moment to appreciate the milestone for what it was before enjoying the blistering outro of "Second Chance" and "I Know You Don't Love Me". Since then, the band has given us four LPs, each of a completely different flavor: the pastoral ambience of Seaside Rock, the shadowy, experimental pop turn of Living Thing, the lean and mean indie rock return of Gimme Some, and now, the group's quintessential example of songwriting and production in the form of Breakin' Point. In each of those phases, and in the many additional endeavors that each member of the band has pursued in the time in between, the song's chorus has served as a guiding principle. In breaking things apart and putting them back together again, Peter Bjorn and John have paid little heed to the extraneous voices outside of their whimsical world of magic, focusing instead on talking, discussing the state of things and then sharing their reflections. Ten years later, they've yet to go wrong by that philosophy, and Peter Bjorn and John continue to give us something to talk about, something to inspire and to laugh and cry about to become more ourselves. It just takes some willingness to go to the breakin' point.
Peter Bjorn and John:
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