It didn’t help perhaps that Manchester United were playing Paris St Germain in a nothing-to-lose, go-for-it, make-or-break Champions League game but the crowd that greeted Stockholm’s Peter, Björn and John was, let’s say, a bit on the thin side for a band of their stature, and one that hadn’t been this way since 2011. At one stage it looked like it would amount to the number of VCs awarded at Rorke’s Drift plus those won before breakfast at Gallipoli plus VAT, but some latecomers and a sudden surge from the bar area at least ensured it reached a quorum.
Neither was the crowd particularly boisterous early on and Peter Morén observed he “wasn’t feeling spiritual”. Perhaps he’d been for a nap. Scheduled for a 9pm start it was 9.20 before they made it on stage and I was beginning to wonder if they had heeded the advice of their own opening song ‘Let’s Call It Off’.
But quite often when there’s an inauspicious start a gig elevates itself in to a full-bloodied show and that is what happened. Kudos too to PB&J for sticking with it and playing the same number of songs (19) as they had the night before in London and they were rewarded as the crowd too was spurred into action as the evening progressed.
If you don’t know them (and I strongly suggest you check them out the next time they play live here) they are a peculiar melange of 1960s bands like The Monkees and Herman’s Hermits, 1990s Manchester (Peter Morén in particular sports an Oasis-like haircut, while having the mannerisms of Davy Jones) and more recent full-on guitar bands like Rilo Kiley. To complicate matters further their penultimate song, the break-up ‘Up Against The Wall’ has New Order written all over it. They’re a little hipsterish in a way but from an era before hipster became a term of derision.
They (Peter and Björn) take it in turn to sing though Morén sees more of the action and he leaps up and down more frequently than Cristiano Ronaldo does in a training session but that isn’t anywhere near as spectacular as the musicianship. Within seconds of them starting up you know these guys are at the top of their game.
The set was a little sluggish to start but got going with ‘Dark Ages’, a song written while they were in the U.S. during the run-up to the Presidential election in 2016, so there’s no need to guess what it’s about. The following song, ‘In My Town’, dedicated, of course, to Manchester, was remarkable for a brilliant piece of improvisation when Björn lost his bass guitar half way through and the other two had to cobble together what proved to be “the longest version of that song I’ve ever played” according to Peter Morén.
It was fascinating to watch the adaptation, with hardly a note out of place as it turned into a two-minute guitar/percussion break and I was mildly disappointed that up-and-coming local band Satyr Play, who had opened, appeared not to be in the audience to watch a master class of extemporisation.
As the show progressed the tempo was raised with the exception of ‘Dig A Little Deeper’ in which Morén came into in the audience, not for the last time, and dropped onto the floor, inviting its members to join him, which they did, as if they were trying claw their way into the unoccupied Academy 2, directly below.
Intriguingly, a couple of covers were thrown in, one after the other, Swedish band The Concretes’ ‘Teen Love’ followed by The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ or at least part of it. I say intriguingly because PB&J have more than enough material that they don’t need to do any covers. But they are associated with The Concretes and in any case the combination was masterful.
The main set wrapped up with ‘Objects Of My Affection’, one in which John finally came into his own with a more complex, driving beat. By now the guitar work, crisp and clear throughout – they don’t waste a single note – had reached epic proportions prompting me to compare Peter’s guitar outro with Anna Calvi, an observation I never thought I’d make.
Eventually, the catchy ‘Young Folks’, undeniably their best-known song with tens of millions of streams and YouTube views, was going to turn up and it did so as the second one in a superb four-song encore.
It wasn’t the highlight, though. They left that to the last two songs, ‘Up Against The Wall’ in which Peter cleverly improvised vocally, again from the floor, addressing the bar, the guard and anyone else who came into view and ‘Lies’, which could have been written solely to play out a show.
As the performance ended, Peter legged it off the stage as if he was bursting, but went straight to the merch stand. That’s dedication.
When I reviewed their latest EP, ‘EPBJ’ for GIITTV’s ‘Nordic Music Scene’ recently, while admiring the quality of the writing I said I hadn’t been convinced as to how I’d react to their live show but having seen it my only question now is why the venue wasn’t packed to the doors.