Decades on, the ‘80s pop rock style has three new kings in Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson. The trio that achieved worldwide critical and public acclaim with a single from 2006’s “Writer’s Block” that’s hard to hate because of and despite of its saccharine-catchy whistle track has followed up its gloomy, synth-heavy 2009 misstep “Living Thing“ with “Gimme Some,” an energetic and infectious homage to the birth of new wave, post punk and pop punk.
Despite the Pulitzer-type status of the brilliant bubble gum on “Writer’s Block,” “Gimme Some” finds the band at its ‘80s-loving best, putting the power back into its pop, and that was the best side of Peter Björn and John at 9:30 Club Saturday evening. And like good songs from any era, most of PB&J's sound timeless.
Surprisingly, the band bookended its opening set with the most depressed music from its upbeat new album -- “May Seem Macabre” and “I Know You Don’t Love Me” -- but “Macabre” was a telling choice for an opener. PB&J pay their bills with upbeat sounds behind gloomy themes.
“Macabre” reverses that, with sad post punk giving way to the lyric “It may seem macabre but it’s beautiful.” And the terrific beat and groove provided by drummer John and bassist Björn gave lead singer/guitarist Peter room to bait the audience with his endearing goofiness and made his guitar solos that much more powerful when he did rip his strings.
“Macabre” came to a rocking close, a pattern set that almost saved the couple of duds in the set. “Dig a Little Deeper” and “Let’s Call It Off” dug a little too deep into ‘80s cheese and quirk, sounding like soundtrack material for B movies of that time, but were capped with guitar assaults worthy of better tunes. PB&J’s stellar rendition of “Second Chance” -- led by the beat of a cowbell from an even earlier era -- is probably the kind of song Corey Hart and Rick Springfield wish they could have made (and the kind of song, however Peter Björn and John are regarded 25 years from now, would have them on the Mount Rushmore of pop rock now had they done it 25 years ago).
When the trio did drag a bit, they were sure to follow with more energy, as the short, punky “Black Book” quickly erased the uncomfortable “Let’s Call It Off.” Other punk-inflected pop tunes “Breaker Breaker” and “Lies” also proved to be short and sweet energizers, highlights of the show.
In the first encore, Peter confessed that the next song was one of the band’s songs about self-hate -- and semi-joked that 80 percent of their songs are about the same -- and “Down Like Me” definitely displays the gloomy side of PB&J, without trying to pep it up. In the second encore, Peter addressed the issue of performing “Living Thing” live, saying the synthesizer (opener Bachelorette had already provided enough of it with her psychedelic synth-pop, a pleasant groove to listen to but not much to see live) was not eco-friendly to travel with and too plastic for the green-minded.
A confession about the previous album? Anyway, the band had rearranged “Living Thing’s” “Stay This Way” as a slow groove for their guitar, bass and drums lineup, and while it forsook the show’s better energy, the crowd swayed in approval, proof that “Living Thing’s” change of direction wasn’t unappreciated by PB&J’s devoted fans.
And in that second encore, PB&J played that song for which everyone was (at least supposed to be) waiting. Peter ventured into the crowd to sing and whistle (along to a whistle track) “Young Folks,” the song that put them on the pop culture mountain four years ago. And the crowd appropriately shimmied in compliance and grinned at Peter navigating the crowd before returning to don his guitar and lead a rocking outro as he’d done so many times before in the set.
But PB&J’s best was already behind in the set. For all its deserved fame and adoration, “Writer’s Block’s” best song wasn’t “Young Folks.” The powerful emotion of “Objects of My Affection” stood out on that record and was performed with bittersweet passion as the lead of a heart-shaking one-two punch that closed the initial set. “I Know You Don’t Love Me” followed, and the trio took that sad bastard of a familiar friend to greatness, dragging it on effectively and, yes, bringing another song to another triumphant, hard-rocking big finish.