Friends forever

Pub date November 18, 2009
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer

SONIC REDUCER We can’t all cozy up like Plant and Krauss, Timberlake and Timbaland. Fantasy jam sessions sometimes remain just that, as Slash found out when Jack White rejected the ex-Guns slinger’s request for a guest turn, but, hey, you can dream: Animal Collective’s Panda Bear paired with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste — bear with me — or Droste coupled with Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth. Sure, they’re friends now, but chums have been known to kill each other.

And sometimes the daydream turns into a tepid ho-hum — as is the case of Them Crooked Vultures, a very, very promising supergroup on paper, composed of guitarist-vocalist Josh Homme, Dave Grohl on drums and backing vocals, and John Paul Jones on bass, keyboards, and backing vocals. Instead, despite likable if ickily-titled jams like the Iron Maiden-ish "Caligulove," the power trio’s new self-titled Interscope long-player just comes off like vaguely North African-flavored, watered-down Queens of the Stone Age, feeding on freeze-dried corpses of Zep and other AOR kin. At least the Vultures have named themselves well. Can I get another flavor of crunchy guitar, p’weeze?

Then you have bandmates — names all up there in the marquee — who might not even know each other, really, yet somehow stick it out for a decade. Chalk it up to "Young Folks" — or Swedish stoicism.

Peter Bjorn and John sound like they’re pretty much adhered for life: the threesome celebrates its tenth birthday with two shows at Great American Music Hall, Nov. 19 and 20, just the latest in a series of special soirees that have included guests like Spank Rock and Andrew WK and whistling contests.

No, they’re not overnight wonders and, yes, Bjorn Yttling has known Peter Moren for 18 years. Still, Yttling sounds a bit shocked when I ask him if, say, the cunning, jittery, almost-Afropop-hued title track of this year’s minimal synthy Living Thing (Almost Gold) is about one, or more, of the Peter Bjorn and Johns coming out. How else to interpret: "We didn’t do it together, and now is it too late? /It’s pretty tight around the corners and I no longer have your taste /What is it about a friendship that always keeps the closet closed? /But I can tell it’s dusty in here /So I don’t even want to think about yours."

"Oh, wow," he says of Moren’s tune. "I’m not sure if that’s about that. I think it’s about the band, the way we are when we work together, so it becomes something more than three people — it’s something else."

Reading the song Yttling’s way uncovers those not-so-fantasy tensions — coupled with a gimlet-eyed honesty displayed on baldly anxious numbers like "It Don’t Move Me" and "Lay It Down" — that give the band a depth that perhaps other Swedish popsters lack. And really, Yttling, who has produced and written songs for Lykke Li, sees Living Thing overall as "about moving onto other things and not being so stuck in the past about stuff. ‘It Don’t Move Me’ is about stuff that touched you before and doesn’t move you at all, doesn’t affect you anymore, and you get scared about that, but you got to move on because there will be new stuff that will touch your heart later."

A few things, however, remain the same, opines Yttling by phone from Toronto:

(A) "Rock ‘n’ roll is better live than on album, and electronic music is better on album than live — if you’re not on pills maybe."

(B) "We’re not a jamming band. We don’t sit around the rehearsal space forever and smoke dope and bang out an E minor riff."

(C) As far as songwriting goes, "We try to be as dancey as possible and at same time make good narrative songs. It’s tricky when you like a lot of styles — you gotta try to do what you like."

(D) Constant touring isn’t an issue if "you’ve always got your Nintendo and passport. Always ask for Internet code when you check into hotel, otherwise you have to go down or call. Also use the in-dining service if you’re in a hurry," though, he observes, "it’s more of a Peter thing to walk around and almost miss the show."

(E) And as for Niagara Falls, which Yttling just eyeballed for the first time: "They’re on 24/7. It’s weird."


Thurs/19-Fri/20, 9 p.m., $21–$23

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF


Thurs/19, 8 p.m., $49.50

Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph, Oakl