A Case of Scandi Happy Sad:Peter Bjorn and John @ A38

For a Saturday night with a fairly well known act, the crowd was somewhat scarce, which plunged me into an analytical mood over my beer. It may be the price of the ticket, which was above the boat’s general average for a band that has not been very much in the limelight lately. The tour is in fact promoting their latest album, Dark Days, which nevertheless landed a bit off the radar even for inveterate indie fans. Or it may be the elephant in the room: back in 2006 Peter Bjorn and John had the kind of hit that became inescapable, and for a band who had known no comparable fame before, unrepeatable too. In a world that was just getting used to the powers of social media, Young Folks was everywhere. It soundtracked cult films and series and popular video games, landed at number 2 on NME’s at that point still fairly meaningful Songs of the Year list (whether Hot Chip’s number 1, Over and Over, has made the same lasting impression as Young Folks is up for debate) and was also a staple on the playlist in the couple of Budapest indie bars that catered to my exotic tastes. Come to think of it, Young Folks may have been among the last tracks I actually burned onto CDs to be played on the cumbersome, flying saucer shaped Discman. Long and the short of it, Peter Bjorn and John also struck me as a generational thing, and perhaps the generation for which Young Folks was an unofficial anthem is not always going to concerts anymore, because, silent whisper, we’re slowly slipping into middle age.

Not so Peter Morén, the band’s lead singer, who might be on the ’spectrum’ age wise, but has the kind of uncontained energy on stage that could ruin the joints of a teenager- those not thoroughly familiar with the band will now guess its name comes from its members, and they are oh so right, besides Morén it comprises Björn Yttling on bass and John Eriksson on drums. Since they’re a three piece, Eriksson does get the kind of attention drummers don’t always do, I like to compare them to the goalkeeper of a well oiled team who is only needed to save exceptional shots (drum solo!) and interestingly enough there is a Swedish player by the name of John Eriksson, though sadly he played striker.

Morén is also the responsible for most of the on stage banter, describing their debut on a Stockholm boat that also had a dog (A38 apparently has even more, but here’s the sound engineer’s dog reporting from a Black Bartók gig) and reminiscing about their previous Sziget shows- the number of people cheering that they were present at any of those is however not overwhelming and here we get to the strange fact that Peter Bjorn and John’s core audience is still made up of, yes I have been building this whole thing up to this point, young folks. As in teenaged to early twenties, with a hard core close to the stage who mouth the lyrics to all of the songs, older and newer alike, and turn frantic whenever a favourite comes on. Perhaps then they are more of a state of mind thing than a generational one, and although they have turned darker both in sound and content after the very melodic and occasionally almost twee Writer’s Block, they still sound fundamentally cheerful in a way that appeals to the young and not yet disillusioned. Allow me to slip into a common place here, but they have the quality of Scandinavian, and particularly Swedish acts, of sounding very upbeat and pleasant even when tackling difficult topics, like a Eurovision belter about eradicating world famine (I am confident that if not Peter Bjorn and John, who spritely as they are, may nevertheless be too old and wise for that stuff, a Swedish act could easily pull that off at some point). Listening to the tunes I was not familiar with it struck me how catchy they actually are, and may well have been hits for most other bands, if they didn’t have Young Folks looming large on the horizon. 

There are also a few sessions of singing from the crowd (kudos to the roadie who adeptly maneuvered the microphone cable through the crowd without pulling anyone’s head off) which go down well- Morén also mentions that they’d like to play more clubs, which seems to suit their level of intensity and stage set up perfectly. They also earn bonus points for not choosing the easy way out of ending on a rapturous high with Young Folks but taking a more jam session approach. Their album may be titled Dark Days, and we may as well be living dark times, but every now and then everyone deserves a respite with some Scandinavian indie that simply can’t help being feelgood.

As for my personal improvement plan of checking out the opening act: I did, and for a while I laboured under the misconception, fueled by a fellow concert goer, that teepee are Hungarian. This shines a light on the fact the we both arrived a bit late, as the band must have introduced themselves, and then, while I was pondering the fact that their singer has a little Anna Calvi thing going on, came the great reveal that they are actually Czech. In the grand scheme of things neither is good or bad, of course, musically speaking they’re into some dreamy shoegaze that might feel a bit flat at first but gradually grows on you, as demonstrated by the crowd that kept a polite three metre distance from the stage at first but then surged ahead for the final couple of songs. Also, to fuel my goalkeeper theory, their drummer had to very patiently sit out almost the entirety of a song with the exact resigned face of someone who is comfortable with periodical uselessness and then sudden, unexpected relevance.

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