It’s weird: I had been thinking about Peter Bjorn and John and Fujiya & Miyagi as somehow connected for a while before I heard they were touring together. Though it would be hard to confuse their sounds, both are popular, ubiquitously buzzed-about indie rock bands that released celebrated albums earlier this year. Beyond that, I think it must have been that both band names are comprised of proper names and include the conjunction “and.” Whatever the reason, it just seemed appropriate that they would play on the same bill.
Au Revoir Simone, a local Brooklyn band, kicked off the night. A trio (Peter Bjorn and John later told us that they purposefully chose two other trios for the evening—“a trio of trios!”) of skinny, long-haired girls all playing keyboards and singing in unison, they pretty much screamed “gimmick” from the get-go. It’s not that I didn’t find their spacey, diffuse songs pleasant, but there just wasn’t much to like. All of the ethereality didn’t add up to much substance.
I was looking forward to seeing Fujiya & Miyagi, as I had been playing their Kraut rock-influenced album Transparent Things (Deaf Dumb & Blind) regularly for months. It’s so rare for music to be danceable and have strange, satisfying lyrics that it just never got old. Unfortunately, the band is much stronger on record than it is live. There wasn’t much that singer/guitarist Dave Best could do to punch up his sparse, whispered vocals, and no one in the band made much an effort to interact with the audience. While I continue to enjoy Transparent Things, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to see Fujiya & Miyagi live again.
By the time Peter Bjorn and John took the stage, I had grown a bit weary of the evening’s lackluster performances. Fortunately, the energetic Swedish sweethearts made quick work of redeeming the evening. Their stage set-up seemed to make light of their growing fame (I recently heard “Young Folks” in a Banana Republic outlet in Connecticut where, you might be interested to know, I was not tempted to make any purchases) and critical darling status, with each piece of equipment clearly labeled. There was a “Peter Bjorn and John Drum” and a “Peter Bjorn and John Bass Amp,” while the band performed in front of a curtain with “Peter Bjorn and John Backdrop” emblazoned upon it. Most of the set consisted of catchy, indie pop fare from Writer’s Block (Almost Gold), performed with boyish enthusiasm and ample dancing, both onstage and in the crowd. At one point, John lightheartedly demystified another concert cliché, reading from what may have been the set list and telling us, “The next song will be a soft song, then another soft song, then the hit.” They were true to their word, though a little humble, as the “soft song,” “Amsterdam” was by then almost as popular as “Young Folks,” the “hit.” Peter Bjorn and John see the humor in the indie rock hype machine and aren’t afraid to poke fun at it, laughing with, not at, their ever-growing contingent of fans.