Last week, I had the chance to talk to Bjorn Yttling from Peter Bjorn & John for a piece I wrote in the Arizona Republic. It was an interesting interview for more than just my decision to ask who would win in a hypothetical Battle of the Bjorns between him, Bjorn Borg or Bjorn Ulvaeus. What struck me most about our conversation was how readily Yttling admitted that for the majority of his band’s career they’d openly worried about their lack of popularity.

I can’t imagine a respected American rock musician making that kind of statement. If James Mercer came out and revealed that the m.o. behind Chutes Too Narrow was to sell as many copies as possible and get the headlining slot at Coachella, the Brafflash would’ve started instantly, and not just after the umpteenth time a staggering ex-sorostitute clutching a chocolate martini told you how “Garden State really spoke to our generation.”

Of course, Bjorn (and Peter and John) is from Sweden, the land of Abba, the land of Annie, the land of Bjergen Kjergen from Knuergen near the Bjoergen fjords. A place where popularity isn’t necessary a four-letter world (of course, it might actually be a four-letter word but I don’t speak Swedish). And though it feels as though they’ve been around forever, PB&J were practically anonymous at this time last year, just another band struggling to get their songs in Old Navy commercials and Grey’s Anatomy. Or something. 12 months later, they’re on your little sister’s Facebook page (and Kanye West’s), right next to Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes and the Killers. Which is exactly were they belong. Peter Bjorn and John make pop music. They strive for catchy hooks and straight-forward lyrics. The only difference between them and those bands is that they’re brilliant at what they do.

Peter, Bjorn and Uh….Moby?

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I wrote in last year’s Stylus year-end List, that “the genius of Writer’s Block lay in its sense of populism. Not the brooding impenetrability of Pynchon and Radiohead, but the everyman pop sensibility of Catcher in the Rye and The Beatles.” The sort of thing that’s impossible to dislike. Of course, this is the Internet, a place where you can always find someone willing to spread hateful thoughts free of charge. And sure, I like to spread hateful thoughts as much as the next Gerard the Bear, but I’m not really sure what the point of websites like this are,  Especially considering that 72.3 percent of blog-readers are other bloggers and bored journalists trolling for a story (Hi guys). Mix the two, stir, and voila!  Instant backlash. So if it even matters at all (which I truly suspect it doesn’t), let me be the first to start the backlash to the backlash. Not only was Peter Bjorn and John’s set at the Wiltern this Monday better than expected, it was damn right transcendent.

Sure, it was a little surreal being at a show next to a quartet of quasi emo-chicks losing their shit, screaming like A Hard Days Night. But it was well-deserved. Gone were the nerves and timid stage demeanor that had reportedly marked the band’s early U.S. performances. In their stead was a confident and road-tested trio, buffering their almost twee album tracks with serrated bursts of psychedelic guitars, air-tight drumming and endless charisma. Peter struts around the stage, bobbing and weaving with full-on rock star histrionics, he clutches the guitar to his chest and dispenses guitar hero licks that would satisfy even the most jaded rockists. Bjorn is much more funky than any Swede has a right to be, delivering trampoline bouncy bass lines worthy of Soul Train (even if the fanbase is more High School Musical). And John, well he looks like Moby. Which is funny. Because it’s Moby.

The crowd went berserk. Sound flooded the cavernous Wiltern. It made me wonder exactly how high the ceiling is for this band, watching them not just breath new life into the already stellar album arrangements, but reinvigorating the tired “mainstream” guitar-pop genre, ( and to think I had thought Blink 182 had been the nail in the coffin). I’d say that it was sort of like watching The Beatles  if not for the fact that I realize how stupid it sounds to say that something was “sort of like watching the Beatles.” So yes, it’s pretty fucking annoying to get your ear drums lacerated by love-lorn 13-year olds who want to make out with Peter Bjorn and OMG! But I’m more than alright with a world in which these guys can become one of the most popular bands around in just six months time.  And for the record, Bjorn Yttling can totally take Bjorn Borg and the dude from Abba.

Download:

MP3: Peter Bjorn& John-“Let’s Call It Off”
MP3: Peter Bjorn & John-“Teen Love”

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