Peter Bjorn & John @ Union Hall, Brooklyn 1/28/07

If you need a concert scene refresher, here’s your crash course: The hot NYC ticket this month is Peter Bjorn & John. Today’s early evening performance on Conan marks the “official” commencement of the totally-delicious PB&J’s American infiltration, followed by a sold-out sets at Mercury Lounge tonight and Bowery tomorrow. But the fun really started last night at Park Slope’s Union Hall, and Other Music’s Gerald, a long-time reader and friend of Stereogum, was on hand to file this envy-inducing report.

Their first introduction to New York, I can?t imagine what Peter, Bjorn, and John must have been thinking walking past the yuppies playing bocce in the back of Union Hall. Certainly not the stereotypical divey atmosphere of most small NY rock clubs, let alone a ?secret rock show,? but given the polite nature of the Swedish Invasion thus far, it seemed a strangely perfect setting, especially with all the library bookshelves, not to mention a picturesque view through the front window of the snow falling outside.

We made our way down to the basement and, according to the sign on the door, apparently just missed Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter?s comedy show. Next up would be At the Seaside, Peter Bjorn & John?s ?secret? identity of the night. Obviously, the word was out and the low-ceilinged room was packed by what I?m guessing was well beyond the 100 spots that were available. And at around 10:20 or so, At the Seaside, err?Peter Bjorn & John, walked on to the cozy stage, the drummer taking his seat directly underneath an antique, Victorian-framed portrait of a woman who closely resembled Mrs. Doubtfire.

[Editor’s Note: Gerald forgot his cam, but we thought the visual of our indie darlings beneath a Mrs. Doubtfire doppelgänger portrait was worth the grainy cellphone pic.]

Beginning with ?Let?s Call It Off,? the Swedish trio?s hour-plus-long set was perfectly loose and, at times, surprisingly rocking, filled with everyone?s favorites off their breakthrough Writer?s Block, and a few older songs most of us American fans haven?t yet heard. Their second song and my new fave ?(I Just Wanna) See Through,? off their two-or-so-year-old Beats, Traps and Backgrounds EP, instantly brought to mind the Jam, which is never a bad thing.

During a short timeout for John to repair his snare drum, Peter thanked the City of New York for arranging some ?fake snow? to make them feel at home, and then they launched into a stripped-down performance of ?Chills? which, afterwards, they jokingly referred to as their German Krautrock version. In comparison, ?Paris 2004? was pretty close to the album recording, with the drummer doing double duty, keeping the beat with one hand, the other hand triggering the little string melodies off his drum pads.

Though I didn?t expect to hear ?Amsterdam? last night — it?s one of the album’s more produced tracks — it showed up in their set in a skeletal, finger-picked form which worked well for the nice back and forth vocals between Bjorn and Peter. . Of course, ?Young Folks? would prove to be the biggest crowd-pleaser, with the band welcoming their friend Lars on stage to play bongos. While former Concretes? Victoria Bergsman — who handles some of the vocals on the recorded version — was rumored to be at the show, she never made it to the stage, but Peter covered her parts just fine, and yes, we whistled along with the ?whistle-parts? without even needing a cue. The band closed their set with the rollicking ?Objects of My Affection? and then ?Up Against the Wall,? which rocked surprisingly hard bringing to mind the chugging-jangle of the Wedding Present. They didn?t leave the stage for too long, and came out for a 10-minute encore, letting loose on a pair of older songs (I assume) which ended with Peter skronking on his guitar and jumping around, at one point his head just missing a ceiling pipe.

Peter Bjorn & John put on, by far, one of the best concerts I?ve been to in ages. I don?t think anyone in the room needed to be won over, but for as beloved as their Writer’s Block record is, it was one of those kinds of shows where the expectations were already extremely high. If this was supposedly a ?practice? for their next two nights at Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom, I gotta see the real thing!

Though we probably just drove the Craigslist market up right there, sounds like making it to the LES sometime over the next two nights is highly advisable. Look out for Gerald’s awesome contributions to the OM newsletter, and look out for Peter Bjorn & John at your nearest purveyor of fine Swedish indie-pop (or, Grey’s Anatomy). See ya at Merc!