Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Peter, Bjorn and John

I have not been to an all-ages show in Chicago. What stands out to me about all-ages shows is the number of very young what seem like tweens. Granted, I suspect some of them were a bit older, but many were definitely under eighteen. The press of the crowd and the presence of the children made me slightly uncomfortable enjoying my double tequila.

The first band up was Bachelorette. She did an admirable job with the music, electronic rhythmic dance noise. Everyone moved and swayed as she played, with a glittering laser light show in the background. The music bordered on pop trance, and while interesting, the overall effect was one of having either heard that before, or feeling it was too passed through a machine to be significantly real.

As she left I moved toward the stage so I could be as close as front-row center as I could be for Peter, Bjorn, and John. I rather love PB&J, though "Young Folks", that ubiquitous whistling song from 2006 is not my favorite song from the group. I’m rather fond of the entire Writer’s Block album, most particularly "Objects of My Affection". That album certainly helped to keep me focused and helped me through a rough part of 2008.

That stage was set with three thumbs pointing high into the air, sticking out and announcing that soon we would be experiencing PB&J in all their glory. Along the ceiling were strings of light bulbs. The tweens talked and chatted with themselves. In front of me were some college students drinking beer. One would turn at every group of girls he saw enter and chat them up. He wore a black hoodie with silver wings. It was a statement.

He turned to the girls in front of me and said “I hope you don’t mind if I rock out. I’m going to rock out. I just, I hope you don’t mind if I rock out.”

“That seems cool,” one of the girls replied.

“I really don’t care what you think,” he replied. His friend turned to him and said, “Yeah, you wore that out of the house tonight; you obviously don’t care what anyone thinks.”

I smirked, amused, and he turned to me.

“What are you into?” he asked.


“History? Yeah, that’s cool. I really wish more people knew history. Or at least, you know, American people. We really don’t know enough about history. But that’s cool.”

I smiled.

“What do you study at university?”

“I studied philosophy.”

“Oh, wow, yeah, that’s deep, yeah. In the city now?”

“Yes, in the city. When I was in school.”

“Oh.” I watched it dawn on him that I was not a student at whatever university he suspected everyone from town must be in. He turned and looked toward the stage, and did not look back at me for the rest of the night.

I knew I had just isolated myself in the group, and at the same time I didn't mind. I was here for the music.

The band walked on stage and the audience lit up and screamed. Peter is clean cut in a suit, Bjorn scruffy in his leather jacket, and John looks like a lumberjack sitting behind the drums. They started to play.

Their music is something I would say you either like or don’t. "Young Folks" is not indicative of the style. Peter, as a vocalist is cheerful and happy. He jumps around the stage riling up the audience and getting everyone to clap hands and join in with his antics. He is jovial and light and the crowd loves him. He jumps off the stage, touches the hands of the adoring fan. He works the crowd and they love him for it. They respond with hands outstretched and open arms and grabbing. They love him.

Bjorn is different, reserved. He holds back with his guitar. He is like slick and fury as he strums the strings. I find myself more interested in watching him than Peter. When he takes the lead and sings is when he completely captures me. I have this theory about singers. Some singers sing like they are working. They sing because it is what they want to do, to be sure, but it’s a job. They do it like a job. They work the audience, they have fun, they are good, but they are working. This was the sense I had when watching the Rural Alberta Advantage. Nils Edenloff sang like he was working. Peter sings like he is working. Bjorn, though, is Bjorn.

Bjorn sings like he is making love to the microphone, like he is casting his voice out in a wide net to enrapture and sexualize the entire audience. His body moves with his fingers as he plays the guitar and sings. His hands move, his hips move, he is like a shimmering beacon of musical joy, love, passion, desire, all being poured out on stage. Sweat beads and drips from his hair as he sings and thrusts into the microphone. He is fantastic, magical, his music is magical. He sings because he is passionate about singing, because he wants to be singing, because he needs to be singing. He doesn’t work for it, he is it, he is this thing he needs to be and it is fantastic, genius, and beautiful. I fall into his lyrics and disappear on his voice, moving with his song, chanting along with all the little tweens and the rest of the audience, getting lost in the power and passion of it.

The crowd moved like a throng after Bjorn’s song. we worked and moved together; we reached out; someone somewhere stripped off her bra and threw in on stage. We laughed and gyrated along as they sang. When finally Peter jumped on top of the speaker over my head to whistle out the refrain from "Young Folks", we all reacted as if by magical command. And we didn’t care about the young folks, or any other folks right then.

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