It’s no secret I’ve rooted for Little Lo since I first heard about the band through my friend and their mandolin/guitar/sax player Ian Rogers. I met Rogers at the 2009 La Zona Rosa Phoenix gig, when he joined the group of friends I’d made at the show in a guessing game. He was very giggly, with a big, bright grin. This is probably the best way I can summarize Little Lo as a band – they are a bubbly beacon of loveliness in the landscape of Austin music. What “A Poison Tree” proves is that these wonderful people are brilliant songwriters. Each track flows effortlessly into the next, without the handicap of each song sounding exactly like the next. It’s a cohesive record without being at all boring; every song stands out as a “best” track.
“Wounded Knee” rushes past with energy; it’s a perfect opener and a guaranteed hook for anyone new to the band. You’ll perk up immediately and beg for more, as mastermind Ryan McGill and Bailey Glover act as complimentary narrators. “Hairlong” is my personal favorite; I have long adored this track in a live setting, and the band captured its playfulness perfectly, as someone (perhaps mischievous drummer Sam “Houdini” Houdek, or the expressive bassist Josh Mead) cries out before the song climaxes in a chorus of voices and instruments. “Roots, Trees, Wires” sounds as though it was given just a delicate refining for the EP, and “For Fun” is another tune I was excited to finally hear recorded (although I’ll admit, I miss the kazoo ushering in the band’s entrance). “Broken Skin” allows the band to slow down and embrace some melancholy before the song twists and they sweetly, but firmly, proclaim their love. The whole thing ends in a whisper with “A Poison Tree,” leaving you wondering if you only dreamed the entire thing. Luckily, Little Lo will remind us all that this isn’t just a dream – they’ll perform the entire EP at the Parish on Sunday. If there’s one thing you will take away from a Little Lo show, it is the idea that love and dreams combined can create the most moving beauty.
My adoration for awesome female singers knows no bounds, but Sarah Jaffe and Robyn are definitely at the top of my all-time favorites list. Imagine my glee at discovering Jaffe’s reinterpretation of our favorite Swedish pop star on Billboard. Check it out:
Everyone has to be a little more creative when it comes to working these days. People are often forced to define their own job, creating something where they see a deficiency. Particularly in the music industry, the changes have been analyzed and reanalyzed, as its become both easier and more difficult for new music to be heard. So how does a band that has been awarded Grammys, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has hits so ubiquitous that anyone from the age of 25 onward who even just sort of likes music would be able to chime in if a tune came on the radio, stay relevant today? This was the question on my mind when I walked into Bjorn’s in San Antonio, Texas, to check out a SXSW-like Q&A panel with Earth, Wind & Fire.
Earth, Wind & Fire are the masterminds behind 70s hits like “Shining Star,” “September” and “Sing a Song,” and have been recording and touring with minimal breaks since that era. Bjorn’s is a high-end, locally owned electronics store in San Antonio. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the store on a Monday evening. I was immediately greeted with folding chairs scattered around a forest of flat screen TVs, with three reclining chairs sitting up on a raised platform near the center of the menagerie. Naturally, Earth Wind & Fire was the musical choice being pumped through the store speakers, and I sat among a throng of older fans – the handful of kids who were there were children of attendees. There was free wine and hors d’oeuvres, and my boyfriend and I happily partook of chocolate covered strawberries as we sat and waited.
It was a surreal backdrop, and the main event was just as dreamlike. To introduce the stars of the evening, the store tried to blast a live video of the performers, but they had issues with the speakers, so Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson entered the space almost nonchalantly, as applause slowly built around the room when they were recognized. Bjorn himself, the namesake of the store, was the host for the evening, and he seemed almost as overwhelmed by the uniqueness of the situation as the rest of us, briefly stumbling over the performers’ names as he admitted, “I’m just going nuts right now.”
The questioning began at the beguine, as my father would say. As the band members talked about the group’s formation, I sat totally baffled by how young they all looked. Philip just turned 60, and Verdine and Ralph are right on his heels, both with 60th birthdays in the next few months. Bjorn joked that the men looked quite different from the photos he’d seen of them, and Ralph quipped, “It has been 40 years. What if we got out pictures of y’all 40 years ago…”
Bjorn told an anecdote about attending the band’s show in San Antonio the previous week, and egged on Verdine: “Tell these people what you did.” Verdine smiled, and responded, “Well, I took my shirt off. I gotta show people what 60 looks like!”
The guys said the secret to their continued energetic live shows was the healthy food they ate. Ralph said firmly, “Drink the green tea!” Philip later attributed it to God – he seems very spiritual indeed, which many of the San Antonians in the room particularly appreciated.
Bjorn asked the group what they remembered most from their early days, and the guys shouted out, “Station wagons! Cheesecake! We’d just gotten turned on to chef’s salads. Walkie talkies!” This was back in the days when there were an underground college favorite, which is an incredible thought to try to process – at one time, they were just another Arcade Fire, waiting to find that one hit.
Earth, Wind & Fire are not only brilliant musicians, but also incredibly savvy marketers and businessmen. When Bjorn asked why they would ever play smaller venues, Verdine explained that they read their markets carefully. They play the big venues where the audience warrants big venues, and the small venues where fans would appreciate that setting more. “I always tell me friends, we’ll get you out by 11,” he said, acknowledging their fan base’s stage in life. “I know a lot of you have babysitters, and you gotta get back home.”
Thus, it is not at all surprising that the band has partnered with the electronics company Monster Cable. Monster makes accessories for home theaters, computers and mobile devices, and have been making high-end headphones, too. Being the audiophiles that they are, Earth, Wind & Fire partnered with Monster to make in-ear and outer-ear headphones. The in-ear headphones will be called “Gratitude,” and Phillip explained that they improve the listening experience for layered music like Earth, Wind & Fire’s. Ralph vouched for the headphones as well, saying he was very particular about his listening experience but found these phones to be balanced. Verdine explained, “Our records were mastered very carefully – that’s why people still like them today, and they hold up.”
Clearly, this partnership is going to work in favor of Earth, Wind & Fire. Fans in the crowd could be overheard whispering, “Oh, we’ll definitely have to get a pair of those!” It’s just a smart pairing – the band knows that their fan base comes from the era of a tangible listening experience, when vinyl was widespread and people cared about their speaker system. This trend is resurfacing, too, which could mean new fans for the band.
Most of all, the band is thankful. They thanked Monster for their partnership, thanked Bjorn for his hospitality, and thanked their stars for what they’ve been able to do. When Bjorn asked the group if they’ve contemplated a stopping point, they all quickly shook their heads no. “I am awestruck that we are paid doing what we love,” Philip said. “We don’t even think in terms of stopping. We’ll always be creative people.”
In the stagnant, muggy evening air of Austin at La Zona Rosa, Sarah Jaffe was a breath of fresh air. The Rhett Miller-dubbed “jewel of the evening, Texas’ own” Jaffe was playing to a different crowd than I’ve seen her perform for in the past. Though she and headliners Old 97s are both Texas natives, their musical styles are quite different, and Jaffe had to compete against the audience’s yapping during her set. However, her voice once again cut through the night, soaring above the clutter and filling the large venue comfortably. I actually wrote in my notes in the middle of her set, “She could fill the damn world with that voice.”
Jaffe opened up with the piece I was hoping for, her new intro that bleeds into an old song, “Under.” She begins the song onstage alone, her voice accompanied only by a prerecorded track on her iPod. Then her bandmates filtered in, and the tune bellowed deeply in the night. The more I see her perform, the more polished Jaffe sounds, which makes her a joy to return to time and time again. And she loves to return: “Austin, you do know how much I love you,” she said, as if she were talking to a partner.
She put on an almost British accent as she joked between songs, “Alright, we’ll be playing ballads the rest of the night.” The room was quiet, and she screwed up her nose, saying, “It was a joke. Got absolutely no reaction with that. Alright. A joke.” She jumped into the first of a few new songs that will be released on her EP, The Way Sound Leaves the Room, slated for release in August. “A Sucker for Your Marketing” features echoing, near-desperate vocals that jump between her and her backup singers.
“Vulnerable” came next, with its reinvented, almost a cappella opening, before she broke into a fierce rock face and jammed it out. She followed that song by saying in a goofy, nerdy accent, “I have a question for y’all. …you guys like to partyyy?” There was a bit of whooping before she said, “Well you’re in the wrong place! There’s none of that here.” Following laughter, she broke into “All That Time,” which has become the introduction for her hit, “Clementine.” This was the song that garnered the most crowd reaction, which put a giant grin on Jaffe’s face. As she strummed the opening chords, she said lovingly, “Feel free to sing — you made this song what it was.” Wild whooping and hollering followed to chorus of voices chiming in for the tune, and you could physically feel the love bubbling out of the crowd. It turned the claustrophobic, humid atmosphere warm and cozy.
Next up was a cover of a Harry Nilsson song, “Me and My Arrow.” Jaffe has mentioned Nilsson many times before in interviews, and she made the song sound modern and almost hip-hop (perhaps not so surprising, since Blackalicious has sampled the song). “When You Rest,” another new EP song, was next, and this is probably my favorite new track she’s performed so far. Playing into her hip-hop experimentation, the song has an arresting beat — it’s practically begging to be sampled.
“Even Born Again,” from Jaffe’s first EP, always feels like she’s saving it for herself. She closes her eyes and makes herself completely vulnerable, getting lost in her song and whatever place it came from within her. It’s a brave thing for an artist to expose herself so nakedly, but Jaffe is a brave woman and welcomes you into her emotions as she closes the song, eyes now open, with a delicate, “La la-dum.”
Jaffe closed out her set with a sing-along, and the opening track to Suburban Nature. Unfortunately, the crowd of Old 97s fans was too self-conscious to really let loose and play along, but a good enough portion of the crowd participated as Jaffe directed us to sing “Oh-oh-oh-oh,” as she promised, “I have a feeling it could be really, really epic,” if we all chimed in. I’ve heard crowds get much louder for Jaffe at smaller gigs, but she still enjoyed the chorus she created as she jumped into the drum-and-bass-heavy tune. When Jaffe was done, and after thanking her bandmates and tourmates one last time, she had drummed up a strong and sincere round of applause, and a line formed to purchase her music and say hello to her in the back of the venue, at the merch table. Once again, Jaffe is proving that with devastating talent and a sincere, good heart, you can win over fans wherever you go.
The most heartfelt and gigantic of thanks to the fabulous Felicia Graham for capturing this Texas jewel.
Texas heroine and blog favorite Sarah Jaffe is bringing her honeyed voice and lovely, quick wit back to Austin today for her show at La Zona Rosa. You know that music that just fills your heart and stops you dead in your tracks, your breath caught in your throat? That’s the music Jaffe makes.
Best known now for her single, “Clementine,” Jaffe has been cooking up some really interesting new music of late, playing with pedals and new instruments onstage but sounding just as polished as ever. Merely turning on the teaser video I included at the head of this post, I already have goosebumps all over. Jaffe is a star, and if you haven’t been able to bask in her wonderfulness, you really need to get yourself to this gig. She’ll be opening for hometown heroes Old 97s, so you can rest assured it’ll be a solid show from front to back.
If we’re lucky, Jaffe will bust out “Under” with her new, haunting intro featuring layered vocals that vibrate your guts. It’s a safe bet she’ll bust out “Clementine” and “Vulnerable,” two live staples and singles from her debut full-length record Suburban Nature. These and many other new and wonderful songs are all in store. Open your heart and prepare to fall in love.
There are kids in high school who you can just tell are going to be artists. They march to a slightly different drummer, involve themselves in every creative endeavor possible, and mention names of bands you’ve never heard of before. Peter Shults was one of these kids. He’d go on and on about Ben Kweller in my history class, was a cellist in orchestra for a while, and I will never forget him performing a song, just him and his acoustic guitar, at a science fair. Surrounded by clay and paper mache body parts, I’m pretty sure he did a cover of a John Mayer song, and I turned to my mom and said, “He’s really good!”
In college, Peter was a part of the classmate-beloved duo, The Pajamas, and he and then-partner Jonathan Chan were one of my first band interviews for The Daily Texan. They were fun-loving and talented, and most of all really believed in what they were doing, so we all did, too.
Now, Peter is a part of the folk-revival group Hello Wheels. With bandmates Matt Bradshaw, Nick Garza and John Shaw, the band crafts instrumentally driven stomp-folk that you feel almost requires barefoot, stretched out summer evening listening. Their harmonies recall barbershop quartets, and the joy evident in their pieces is reminiscent of the energy of the Avett Brothers.
On their debut EP, Baby John the Fox, each song offers its own personality. “Gone Away” introduces the band in a southern-tinged thunderstorm, sweeping by all blustery and foreboding. “A Woman is a Well” is my favorite track, a beautiful tribute to the fairer sex. It wails, lovesick and wanting, and is simultaneously gentle and wrenching. “Interlude” is a catchy, quick-paced number with some soulful harmonica playing. “Summer Song” brings it down a notch, winding lazily through peaceful images, and “Matches and Wood” closes everything out the way it began – in minor chords and stomp-alongs.
If you’re the type to sit outside in the sticky summer night with a group of buddies, Baby John the Fox will be your type of soundtrack. Support my longtime friend and see for yourself how fun Hello Wheels are – their EP release is this Friday at the Cactus Cafe.
To read the first part of this piece, head over to FestivalCrashers.com.
10 [Par 4] – The band is collaborating with Frenchie Smith Records, and it’s a very loving partnership. When they were mixing Muerta, Chris “Frenchie” Smith told the band, “You are the best I’ve seen you. Keep going. It’s gonna happen.” Hopefully, it will happen for both of the up-and-coming local music groups.
11 [Par 4] – The inspiration for the Muerta EP came from the video for the song that was directed by Jonathan London. “The idea for the video was like Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ video,” Paul explained. “The effect is done by fans. I look like an electric eel.”
12 [Par 3] – On hole 12 during our interview tournament, Paul managed to hit his ball off the course and to the front fence, twice. On the second go, he even took down another player’s beer can. It almost seemed to happen in slow-motion, as Paul took his swing and the ball soared quickly through the air, tipping the beer can without so much as changing course. As the other mini-golfer ran to salvage his brew, he looked over at our team in amazement and yelled, “How does that happen?”
13 [Par 5] – Meandering from hole to hole with the Boxing Lesson, you immediately get a sense of their personalities. Paul is full of energy, excitement, belief in his art and love for his bandmate. Jaylinn is a firecracker, hilarious and equally supportive of Paul. Though Paul does a lot of the talking, as Jaylinn quipped after an impressive 2-swing first hole – “Do not rule me out.”
14 [Par 5] – Paul’s musical tendencies extend to his love of different recording formats. He had a love affair with cassettes, but explains, “Vinyl is my true love. I’m way into vinyl.” New Fortune is producing Muerta double EP 7”s.
15 [Par 4] – Now that Paul has taken over the managing role for the band again, he said he enjoys getting direct feedback about the band. “I’m never going to lose this – connecting with bloggers and fans.”
16 [Par 5] – When the Boxing Lesson’s drummer, Venny Nunez, first played with the band at the ripe age of 16, Paul and Jaylinn had to rub club stamps off on his hands to get the underaged musician into venues with them. Now, he’s 21 and Paul says, “We’re prolific together.”
17 [Par 5] – There’s a new full album in the works that Paul says Muerta transitions fans into. Still, there’s no rush these days. “At practice, we’re doing it for us again,” Paul said. “We’ll spin records, smoke pot, play for fun. Sometimes, we’ll just play a G for 45 minutes.”
18 [Par 5] – The Boxing Lesson are, more than ever, D.I.Y. Through their hardships, they’ve come full circle to make everything they do about the music again. “We’re like a high school band again,” Paul said. “I own all of my own music, I have Jaylinn, I have shows and friends. We’re starting again, and doing this for fun.” Sounds like a hole in one to me.
At the end of the game, Zack has blown everyone away with a 43, Jaylinn comes in second with a 53.5 (after being robbed and making a hole in two strokes but having the ball pop up out of the ground as if by magic, we gave her the .5 on the last swing), Paul is close on her heels at 55, and I play a gentlewoman’s 58. Everyone is all-smiles. You can share in the joy: the band will play an in-store at End of an Ear on Saturday at 6pm, rocking out the entire Muerta EP from start to finish, and offering up free downloads for anyone who comes. You can also pick up one of their new vinyl prints – there are only 250 to be had.
If you want to check out the band’s 101 Homegrown Live gig at the ND on Saturday, leave your name and e-mail in the comment section and we’ll pick a winner to be put on the guest list. For another chance to win, check out part one of this interview at FestivalCrashers.com.
I’ve only run a few races in my life, but I can say from both personal and second-hand experience, there are moments during a run in which you want to quit. Your legs are sore, your whole body is exhausted, you’re afraid your lungs might collapse, the heat is bearing down on you and your brain feels like it may melt out of your ears. Then you’ll see a water station off in the distance, or a heavy, quick-paced song will pop on your iPod, or a cool breeze will blow in your face just for a moment, and despite wanting to sit on a curb with every fiber of your being, you’ll continue on until you reach the finish line.
Attending a music festival is a very similar experience to this, and Free Press Summer Fest may have been the most parallel example of any festival I have ever attended. There were moment in the 100-degree blazing heat of the afternoon where I wanted to limp to the shade, licking my wounds, and dip my head in a bucket of ice water. Houston, Texas in the summertime is no joke, particularly when you host a festival along a blacktop street. However, the Free Press Summer Fest crew are fantastic about booking the kinds of bands and providing the kinds of accessories that will urge you on at the last moment, turning the tide and keeping you rocking for just one more song and one more song until you realize the sun’s gone down and it’s time to go home.Read More...
There are a lot of thoughts that race through your head when Peter Moren is standing next to you, sweating all over the place, singing passionately into the mic and pumping his arm like a hip-hop icon, moving from person to person in the audience as he sings right to each one. For me, the one that managed to get caught in the tidal wave of “Oh my God!”s and “No way!!”s was, “How did I get here?”
When you’ve seen a band perform live more than twice, excitement for the show shifts from, “What are they like as live performers?” to “How will this show measure up to that fantastic show at [insert venue and town]?” For instance, I’ve seen Muse play Austin City Limits three times, and I watched them open for My Chemical Romance, and my favorite performance will always be the first time I caught them at Zilker Park in 2006, when they were still fighting for attention and fueled by a desire to “make it.” I’ve seen Phoenix live six times now, and I will still hold the La Zona Rosa gig up as their beacon performance for me, when half of the crowd ended the night onstage and I forgot everything and was just existing in their music.
Of all of the bands I’ve followed in a rabid fangirl way over the years, the one I have seen more times than any other by a long shot is Peter Bjorn & John. I was lucky to stumble on them at South by Southwest in 2007, attending their show based on the buzz around their then-new single, “Young Folks.” I was immediately blown away by the trio (which, at that time, didn’t even include John; he hadn’t made it overseas with his counterparts, so a black-haired non-John was the drummer at their seven South by Southwest gigs). I remember sitting at the Austin City Limits studio in the dim light, about 50 feet from the stage with a near-empty dance floor stretching out in front of me. As the group launched into “Objects of my Affection,” tears started streaming down my face. That was the moment; tingles erupted all over my skin and butterflies flew from my stomach to my throat. I followed the band around the rest of South by Southwest, and have since seen them about fifteen times, as well as four solo Peter Moren shows. I know this band.
However, despite earning enough hypothetical frequent flier miles to get me to Sweden and back, every single time I attend a Peter Bjorn & John show, it is like I am watching them for the first time. That fresh joy that fills you, making your head feel light and fuzzy, your eyes glaze over as the music paints landscapes in your mind, and forces a grin on your face that makes you ache as you stretch your tired body out the venue door – this is what this band has to offer every single time they play. There are few artists I can think of who are as good to their fans as Peter Bjorn & John, who work as hard for them, and it totally pays off.
When the band took the stage at Antone’s on the first of June, they brought an explosive rock show to a Wednesday night that you could see reflected in the happy faces of all of the attendees. Their six albums are very diverse, but they managed to update all of their discography to reflect their latest straight-rock style that they play with on Gimme Some, the album they released this year. This also allowed all three members to showcase their instrumental chops; Peter ripped out some especially impressive guitar solos, Bjorn punched his bass riffs out with sass, and John was getting a full workout on the drums, arms flying wildly between snare and cymbals.
They eased into the evening the way you’d ease into a pool for night swimming, with the lush and flowering “May Seem Macabre.” The pace picked up a little with “It Don’t Move Me,” which was reimagined to be less of an electronic-rock dance tune, and more of a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll romp. “Eyes” really got bodies moving, including Peter’s; this was one of the first songs where he approached the crowd as close as he could get, jutting his guitar out into the front row.
Throughout the night, the three band members interacted with the crowd in their distinctive ways, revealing their own personalities. Peter was the most in-your-face, crouching down and hamming it up for a guy in the front row who was taking a photo, running from one end of the platform to the other and jumping out on amps or whatever else he could find so he could be closer to the crowd, and even leaping into the crowd for singsongs on two songs. Bjorn scanned the audience with a perfectly nonchalant blank rocker face, stepping forward toward the crowd a few times for the more epic of his solos, and John would often pick out individual audience members, pointing at them and nodding to encourage their clapping, singing, and general enjoyment of the show. He also is in the habit of standing up after each song to give a little bow and mouth the words “Thank you,” reflecting his sweet role in PB&J.
One of the first big singalongs of the night came with “Second Chance,” the latest single from Gimme Some. “Let’s Call It Off” from their breakout album, Writer’s Block, continued that trend, and then I lost it (and embarrassed myself a bit, managing to crush my boyfriend’s toes as I leapt up and down and screamed) when they launched into “Teen Love,” a cover of a Concretes song they included on their second album, Falling Out. This was the only song they performed that wasn’t from their latest three records (not including the instrumental album, Seaside Rock), but it fit in perfectly with their more stripped-down rock sound. It’s a straightforward little diddy about young, heartsick love, and Peter lets his vocals wail.
Another standout moment of the night included the three-song chunk near the end of the opening set, featuring a rip-roaring take on “Breaker, Breaker,” a breathless minute-and-thirty-nine-second song that puts John front and center as his drums fly by at breakneck speed. That transitioned into the rhythm-heavy anthem and Gimme Some opener, “Tomorrow Has to Wait,” which raised a chorus of audience voices proclaiming we would live in this moment, and my favorite tear-jerker, “Objects of my Affection.” Bjorn introduced it as “the whistle song,” which led to whispers among audience members guessing we were about to be treated with “Young Folks.” Instead, we got a barrage of leaping guitar and Swedish men, as the guys took us all to a brief moment of nirvana. The lyrics especially rang true that night as Peter proclaimed, “I remember when, when I first moved here/A long time ago/’Cause I heard some song I used to hear back then/A long time ago.” It’s a song that reminds you of your personal growth, and how proud you should be for it. It is sweeping and glorious, the kind of song you wish would follow you around on days that are hard and days that are beautiful. They finished off their opening set with a jam session called “I Know You Don’t Love Me,” which took PB&J to their pinnacle of rock, and allowed John to sing his first lead song of the night.
The pleas for an encore were the weakest I’ve ever heard at a live show, which is really the only complaint I have about the night at all. I’m afraid that audiences have become so accustomed to encores that they don’t even bother to work for them anymore; they just stand there, waiting expectantly. Luckily, Peter Bjorn & John took the applause and hollers they got, plus the cue from nobody budging, to come back out for not one, but two encores.
The first encore kicked off with Peter holding nothing but a mic and a harmonica, busting out a bluesy take on “Nothing to Worry About.” Almost immediately, Peter hopped down off of the stage and made a beeline for the middle, strutting slowly in a line as audience members excitedly but respectfully stood in awe around him, pumping their fists and nodding their heads to the tune. Peter had a giant grin on his face, eating up the audience’s happiness and acting every bit the frontman as he sang his words clearly and carefully, enunciating to the point of almost sassily spitting out the words. If anyone had been unsure about whether they should dance, this pushed them over the edge. Everyone started grooving after this song.
Bjorn’s big Writer’s Block hit, “Amsterdam,” came next, and the weed smoke that already filled the air with a sweet-and-skunky stench grew that much stronger. Then we all dipped into a bit of stereotypically metal Swedish rockness – “Black Book” put John back on lead vocals, and prompted headbanging and some near-pogoing as the floor seemed to shake a bit with the heaviness of the song. The trio brought it down for “Down Like Me” to close out their first encore, allowing everyone (band members included) to breathe a little bit, and ensuring there would be one final encore, as the group’s big hit had yet to whistle its way onto the setlist.
After a slightly stronger plea from the audience, the Swedes entered the scene one last time, kicking it off with a tune Peter proclaimed was made for the couples. “You can do-si-do, as you do in Texas,” Peter said, and then digressed a bit to talk about bathroom smells, Amsterdam smells and everything in between. Bjorn tried to bring it back, but forgot the term “do-si-do” and ended up gesturing to get his point across. “Stay This Way” was revamped from its sweet, stark, cool electronic whisper to a sensual, sexy soul tune.
Finally, “Young Folks” echoed into the evening air, whistles bouncing around the room as Peter leapt back into the audience and make the trek from one end of the room to the other, receiving gentle pats on the back and enthusiastic whoops couple with adoring smiles. The song is cute on record, but really unites live, and Peter got people jumping to this tune. The band closed out on a new tune, “Lies,” which is a quick, straight rock tune that benefitted from the unity of “Young Folks.” Everyone was singing, hugging and clapping, as we all took that final dip on this roller coaster of a night.
I suppose the way I made it to this spectacular show at Antone’s was by being dedicated to the point of extreme fandom. I put my faith in Peter Bjorn & John, and they have repaid me at every turn. They are giving of their energy and their emotion, and spent time after the show to ensure every fan that wanted an autograph, a picture or a hug would be satisfied. They make it easy to get to that place of overwhelming and all-encompassing bliss, with or without an “Amsterdam smell.” On waves of twirling and twisting guitar and bass lines, leaping between bursting drum beats, all carried by this charming, enthusiastic trio, they’ll make you smile every single time.
Personality is a big part of a live performance. Some artists are made for slaving away like hermits in their dark bedrooms, crafting perfect songs that carefully couple emotion and sound, and sending those out into the world on a record, never to emerge (see: Jeff Mangum). Then, there are those artists whose music thrives on the give and take of an audience, of the spur-of-the-moment choices and happy accidents that can occur from night to night. Peter Moren falls firmly into this second group. The records he makes with his band Peter Bjorn and John, as well as his own two solo albums, are lovingly slaved over until they embody his vision, but the music is given new life when he performs live, his guitar playing burning a little brighter and his energy filling the room.
This is why I was thrilled when it was announced, very last-minute, that Peter would play a solo set at Ruta Maya, a coffee place near St. Edward’s University. It’s a roomy venue, and when I entered the scene at 8:30pm, there were only five other people already gathered. I walked briskly to a table near the front, and waited another two hours for my favorite Swede to take the stage. When he picked up his shiny red electric guitar — one he’d purchased earlier that day — he jumped right into “This Is What I Came For,” off of his first solo record, The Last Tycoon. It had clearly been a while since Peter had performed the tune, as he read the lyrics off of sheets of paper. He revealed to us when the song was over, “I looked up these lyrics off the Internet. I was surprised to find them on the Internet! But, after the first bridge, there are a lot of question marks…luckily I wrote the song, so I can fill in the question marks.” He had stumbled at one place in the song, and explained, “There’s a line here that is not what I wrote, actually, but I almost sang it anyway, and they wrote, ‘In the middle of my supper, in the middle of my shit.’ Maybe that’s better than what I wrote.”
The entire night was completely laid back; it was as if Peter had wandered into someone’s giant living room and offered to play a few songs and tell a few stories. He was very relaxed, and completely hilarious — it was almost as if we were getting a comedic routine in between the tunes. Before he began his second tune, he explained that his band had been traveling around with a lot of down time, and had been spending lots of money, so he wanted to do some solo gigs to work. As he digressed, he suddenly caught himself and said sheepishly, “I’m getting nervous! It’s hard to reach the point — the dot at the end of the line. But we’re coming to the end of the line.” We laughed, and he chuckled along and said, shrugging, “It’s a cheap entrance, I can be messy. You didn’t pay a lot for this.”
Indeed, the night was quite possibly the best $6.89 I have ever spent. He treated us to three songs off of his Swedish solo record next, going so far as to translate two for our English-speaking audience. He grinned widely during all three songs, playing smooth, jazz-infused rock songs that reminded me of early Sondre Lerche work. Introducing the jazziest, “att komma ikapp,” Peter said, “I know some fancy chords,” as his fingers whirled around his new instrument.
Peter also utilized the show to indulge in some covers. He played “Time” by Richard Hell, who he described as the godfather of the punk style. “He wore trashy clothes, that were torn on purpose, and Malcolm McLaren said, ‘I’m going to make punk fashion!’ based on Richard Hell. But this is not a trashy song — it’s very well put-together. I guess if you dress trashy, you can write music like that.” At this, he looked down at his own attire, and thought out loud, “I dress very neat. I guess…that means…I write bad songs? No, that’s not right. Shut up.”
Peering into the psyche of this musician was a treat. He stopped at one moment to ask the audience, “What is that smell? It smells like a bathroom smell. Mmm, tasty bathroom smell,” and we all basically lost it at that point. Laughter bounced around the room as we all sat, amazed at how friendly everything felt.
Peter introduced “Paris 2004” by saying, “I’m gonna do a sell-out thing.” It was one of five Peter Bjorn & John songs the artist performed, including two of my very favorites, “(I Just Wanna) See-Through,” a punkish number that was a B-side to the band’s second album, and “Objects of my Affection,” a raw and raucous song from the breakout album, Writer’s Block.
Peter poked fun at Norwegians, as any good Swede would do, but made amends by saying, “I’m gonna play a song by some Norwegians. It’s their only good song. The lyrics are shit, though.” To the audience’s delight, he busted out A-Ha’s “Take On Me,” and when he bravely (and accurately) hit the high notes, applause and hollers confirmed that this was a good choice.
The song of the night for the Texas crowd was the first of his encore, a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy!” Peter even dug deep to pull out a little twang for the song, which was possible because he comes from “Swedish Texas.” The whole night closed out with “Goodbye, Again or,” another PB&J number from their second album that Peter recorded on his cell phone back in the day. There is a windy, whipping little guitar riff in this song that Peter played immaculately, despite forgetting the lyrics momentarily. It was a quiet goodnight kiss to a rapt and loving audience.
Setlist – Peter Moren, Ruta Maya 05/31/2011
This Is What I Came For
I Spåren Av Tåren
Att komma ikapp
Collect, Select, Reflect
(I Just Wanna) See-Through
Take On Me
Objects of my Affection
Goodbye, Again or