Monday, April 27, 2009

Peanut butter and jelly

I'm a big fan of Peter, Bjorn and John's music, having been introduced to them by their smash album Writer's Block and its whistling hit Young Folks. I was quite excited to hear they were coming to town to play the Capital Music Hall and quickly booked the day off and bought a ticket. Then I began to hear evil rumours about the band blowing a SXSW gig (though in hindsight this seems to have more to do with technical problems and fickle hipsters) and whispers that the band wasn't all that great live. I can see how their melodious pop might not translate that well outside the studio, but worries that my $23.50 was money ill-spent began to nag at my nights and days (not really).
That said, opening act Chairlift did not buoy my hopes for a night of fabulous entertainment. I found the band's synth pop fairly anemic. Singer and keyboardist Caroline has a nice voice, and despite her weird decision to wear a trash bag and workboots as a costume seems like a capable stage performer. Unfortunately her Nord was sounding decidedly rinky-dinky, and wasn't getting a boost from guitarist Aaron's boring fretwork and processed guitar tones. Drummer Patrick was good though. Collectively they weren't bad, and I could see them working as a Sunday morning chillout band. When things started turning upward in volume I started to think they might really have something, but at the end of their set I was feeling distinctly underwhelmed.
I have a few beefs with Peter Bjorn and John's performance as well, but not on account of the amount of energy they put into it. Peter joked after the first few songs his pants were starting to slip off "I need to eat more!" He must burn off a lot of calories jumping around and running about. Bjorn's three-day beard and hangdog expression suggest a serious hangover, but he rocked out as well - when not affixing the crowd with a distant stare. John was stuck behind his drum kit - an unusual setup with the snare front and centre, a floor tom on either side and the kick drum off to his right - but worked up a fair sweat himself.
It was pretty clear that the audience was most excited about the tunes off Writer's Block: They whooped as the melody of Amsterdam emerged early in the set and were thrilled by the appearance of Young Folks - with Peter managing some very credible whistling.
I don't think any band could have worked the crowd harder than PBJ as they wound up their main set with rocking versions of Let's Call It Off and Objects of My Affection (featuring some guest bongo playing by Chairlift's Patrick). The main set felt fairly short, but they came back for a long encore, capped with Nothing To Worry About. and some fairly pointless rock ramalama.
This brings me to my main beef (I'll spare you my declaration of jihad against strobe lights and smoke machines): Too much rocking at the expense of melody. PBJ are a great pop band, not a great rock band. If I hear their next tour involves some extra hired hands to better replicate their studio sound, I'll be there in a flash. Heck, I'll probably go anyway: they're an exciting band live, though I really do wish they reproduced their studio tunes with a little more fidelity.
Mind you, that's definitely a minority opinion judging by the enthused comments from the rest of the audience after the lights went up. Incidentally, if you want photos from the show, go check out Ming Wu's site ... I forgot to get a photopass.


Anonymous said...

I completely disagree. I don't need it to sound like a studio session, or I would just listen to it at home. I want to see them have fun, thoroughly look like they are doing exactly what they want to be doing.

I love their melodic sound, and I think it would have been a little too mellow live. They rocked out, looked like they loved performing, and I loved it.

I made the common mistake of listening to their new album afterwards on the drive home, and was kind of disappointed hearing the studio sound after just listening to them live.

And, oh man, The Joy Division at the end was just incredible, and capped off what I felt was a really solid, energetic, fun set.

A.C. said...

I can understand your view. But for myself, I see plenty of rock bands that rock out. I don't need it from PBJ (though they do it quite well). I liked their first 20 seconds of "Transmission". After that, it kind of devolved into parody.

Anonymous said...

I hear that. I don't go to shows weekly or anything, I will just go see the bands I really love, usually in Montreal. If I was hearing bands that "rocked out" often, I would have liked PBJ to just stick to their own sound as well... Was not looking at it at that point of view.