At the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday, May 12
The English trio Fujiya & Miyagi could use someone like John Eriksson. The group's songs tend toward Krautrock-style numbers with steadily pumping "motorik" beats, or pasty robot-funk workouts, with singer-guitarist David Best chanting his lyrics in a breathy stage whisper like a rapper with laryngitis. Despite some undeniably sweet synth tones and Best's occasionally exciting abuse of his Fender Jazzmaster's tremolo arm, Fujiya & Miyagi's beatbox-propelled Saturday-night set at the Commodore was crying out for a real drummer to kick things into overdrive.
That's where Eriksson could have come in handy. As Peter Bjí¶rn and John's percussionist proved during the Swedish trio's headlining performance, he has the goods to be the MVP no matter who he plays with. Eriksson clearly has no ambitions of being Stockholm's answer to Neil Peart. His stripped-down kit seems to ask "Why have more than one tom-tom or a single crash cymbal if that's all you really need?" The reed-thin basher also avoided unnecessary fills, but songs such as "Objects of My Affection" benefited immeasurably from his energetic beat-keeping.
If simplicity is the key to Eriksson's charms, it's a factor that Peter Bjí¶rn and John deploys right across the board, sometimes to camp extreme. In front of a large black banner that stated, in bold white block letters, PETER BJÖRN AND JOHN BACKDROP, the band used gear that was similarly labelled: PETER BJÖRN AND JOHN GUITAR AMP, PETER BJÖRN AND JOHN BASS DRUM, and so on. The group's matching black trousers and ruffled white tuxedo shirts made it look an indie-rock bar-mitzvah band.
As for the music, it doesn't get much simpler than guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, but Peter Bjí¶rn and John don't need much more than that to deliver the sort of hooks that implant themselves in your brain and grow into full-blown earworms. The trio can be a lot more raucous in concert than on its politely poppy breakthrough record, Writer's Block. In front of a sold-out Commodore, Peter Bjí¶rn and John cranked up the fuzz just enough to seem indebted to '60s garage-punk bands, but not enough to drown out the heaven-sent harmonies.
It was when the show slowed down for "Amsterdam" and "Paris 2004" that my attention started to wander. (Hey, isn't that Mike Mills from R.E.M. at the back of the room?) Actually, from the way everyone else responded to "Amsterdam", I started to think I was the only one who didn't know the lyrics. I stopped thinking that when bassist Björn Yttling fucked up a verse and had to start it over.
The lull ended when the band launched into its best-known tune, "Young Folks". Accompanying the Swedes on bongos was Daniel Schubert, a member of Vancouver act Panurge. Grins on the faces of Eriksson and Yttling spoke to the kick-ass job done by Schubert, who kept his Buster Keaton face on the whole time.
Thus redeemed, Peter Bjí¶rn and John closed with an almost unrecognizably raging version of "Up Against the Wall", dragged out to an epic length. Admittedly, in this band's world, epic means anything longer than three minutes. Still, it was pretty cool when Yttling and singer-guitarist Peter Morén climbed onto risers on either side of the stage in an orgy of slashing chords and feedback.
The encore set was predictably anticlimactic. But I was distracted by celebrity-spotting: it was Mike Mills at the back of the room!