CONCERT REVIEW No Whistling on the Bus

Peter Bjorn And John Play Avalon With The Clientele

Peter Bjorn And John feat. The Clientele

Sept. 7, 2007

Avalon Ballroom

Whistling banned in Clientele tour van,” it states on The Clientele’s MySpace page. The opening band can tease Peter Bjorn And John about the possibility of overexposure, but true backlash against this Swedish indie success story is hard to come by. Impressively, Peter Bjorn And John have been able to sustain universal critical acclaim almost a year since their breakthrough album, Writer’s Block, was released. The accolades are not undeserved; the songs on the album are that good. You may have heard one of them, “Young Folks,” the last time you were positively freakin’ anywhere this summer other than on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Though The Clientele are a veteran band with enough of a cult following to headline their own tour, the majority of the crowd at the Avalon ballroom came out specifically to see their heroes, Peter Bjorn And John. Clientele frontman Alasdair Maclean joked, “Peter Bjorn And John used to be our good friends, but now they’re backstage in bathrobes counting their money.” To an audience used to the loud, immediate hooks found in PB&J’s songs, the gentle romanticism of The Clientele’s music was not their cup of tea. Their songs are the kind that politely settle into your mind on first listen and then grow on you over the course of days. The band, likely aware of this, made the smart choice of opening their set with perhaps their catchiest tune, the sublime “Since K Got Over Me.”

It took a couple more songs, however, for The Clientele to fully click into a comfortable instrumental balance. For songs with arrangements as soft as cobwebs and just as delicate, this was no trivial task. Maclean, in a slightly-too-large sweater that looked to be chosen by his mother, warmly crooned songs from throughout the band’s catalogue like they were lullabies while pianist Mel Draisey, with sleepy eyes and disheveled blonde hair, pressed the keys like she was softly kneading dough.

Through nearly all of The Clientele’s set, the shimmering arpeggios coming from Maclean’s guitar barely hovered over the conversational murmur of the crowd, which didn’t fall silent until halfway through “Lamplight” when Maclean unexpectedly shifted into a hazy improvisational guitar solo. The Clientele had converted some new fans but almost lost them with their closing song, “The Dance of the Hours.” The track, from their latest album, God Save the Clientele, features a backdrop of whispers in the studio version, but the band made the mistake of playing a poor quality recording of those whispers in the live setting. It came out more like tape hiss, inducing grimaces on quite a few faces.

It takes more than that to keep a crowd at the Avalon down, and when The Clientele left the stage, the house music stoked the mood of anticipation with a nifty sitar version of “Young Folks.” After a short wait, guitarist and vocalist Peter jogged onstage with the rest of the trio in matching suit jackets, and John started thumping out the beat to “Let’s Call It Off” to enormous cheers.

Seeing them in person, it didn’t take long for me to understand why this band had achieved such popularity. Onstage, Peter Bjorn And John don’t carry themselves with the coyness of a typical indie pop band that can grow tiresome over time; they are true, unabashed performers. Peter gripped his guitar as if he were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to play it and would often punctuate his power chords with a flying leap. Bjorn (the bassist) provided a hilarious counterpoint to Peter’s animated exuberance with his rigid posture and slack-jawed expression. The enthusiastic crowd ate it all up.

While Peter Bjorn And John focused the majority of their set on tracks from Writer’s Block, the songs they cherry-picked from their earlier, more straightforward albums translated to the live setting much more potently. The joyful guitar pop of “Teen Love,” for instance, could only be described as an example of why people go to see live music. With the whole band on backing vocals shouting “I fall in love with you!” the song had the feeling of a four-minute celebration and became an instant show highlight.

At one point more than halfway through the set, a pair of bongo drums were placed onstage and the audience could smell “Young Folks” coming a mile away. While a roadie manned the bongos, Peter grabbed his mic, puckered his lips, and breezed straight into that infectious whistling melody. The Avalon crowd went nuts, and one girl was so thrilled that she climbed up and began dancing with Peter as he casually swayed to the beat. That made everybody go even more nuts, and to the band’s credit, the girl was allowed to stay onstage and flail her arms as much as she wanted for much of the song.

Though “Young Folks” is normally a duet, Peter Bjorn And John disappointingly chose not to tour with a female vocalist (Mel from The Clientele must not have the pipes), so Peter was forced to sing both the male and female parts. However, nobody minded and nobody cared. The adoring fans had taken the song’s “live in the here and now” attitude to heart and brushed their regrets, faults, and insecurities out of their mind. The band they loved was playing the song they came for, and as long as the whistling was live, they were damned if they weren’t going to be carefree.