For those who don’t know, Sky Bar is a hotel in West Hollywood, where the well-to-do can slip off Sunset Blvd and enjoy a piece of luxury amidst the traffic, noise, and action of Los Angeles. Its minimal, modern décor allows hotel residents the feeling of living in a small Villa. Birds drink from the pool, flush with the large wooden deck. Small nooks along the outer edge of the patio, complete with cushions, small tables, and canopies, frame the vast landscape of Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles, with their windows, like an outside art museum dedicated to the grandeur of the city. Like many places in Los Angeles, this spot provides both illusion and beauty, resembling a piece of Mediterranean Europe in a location where one would least expect it. How perfect a setting for a band with European sensibilities?
The bar above the main patio area served nothing but drinks with SVEDKA vodka until 10pm. In fact, the name SVEDKA, as the show’s sponsor, appeared prominently throughout, both with distractions like a photo booth where one could don costumes and props, and the recipe for a drink (with SVEDKA vodka) called the “Moscow Mule,” strategically placed everywhere in eyesight.
And then the buzz of celebrity appearances started charging the air, along with the amassing of the Hollywood hip and fashionably casual. With reporters and their lists of celebrity faces it grew increasingly apparent that this event had more to it than just a simple concert on the patio of a fancy hotel. Jason Bently started playing his set as background music to the milling crowd of people, who hobnobbed and sipped vodka drinks, some standing alone and silent, or together and awkward, all in fun and fashion.
At nine o’clock Peter Bjorn and John walked on the tiny stage set up under a couple trees. The stage held several multicolored LED lights plus the three-piece band, and that was pretty much it. The speakers, and even the mixing board, stayed just off to the sides. Again, thanks to the ingenuity of Hollywood’s ability for illusion, at the turn of one’s head the stage looked as though surrounded by trees in some Grecian olive grove, though with the angular and chic presence of the hotel looming over it (at some points in the show people stood in their windows looking down at us). Against this background Peter introduced their set with, “This is a stripped-down show.”
Their performance lasted nine songs. Polite clapping followed each song. Bjorn tried to hype up the audience in his broken English and thick, Swedish accent, and mostly laughs followed in his attempts. In some sense, it worked. Instead of reaching for glitz they reached, rather, for absurdity and sprezzatura. When Peter sang, however, it transcended any language barrier. His body language suggested pure involvement with each song on an emotional level.
The tease came after the seventh song. Snippets of the melody seeped through on the keyboards onstage, following murmuring in the audience. I could hear the potential questions ringing through the crowd: “Are they going to play it?” “Who’s going to sing the woman’s part?” When the audience caught on all the anticipation paid off into excitement and enthusiasm. With “Young Folks,” Peter took on both call-and-response roles, delivering a mincing, almost coquettish performance for Victoria Bergman’s parts. Further on in the song he completely abandoned this for guttural, Billy Idol-type howls and screams. It was as though a curtain suddenly lifted or, in all likelihood, he just wanted to mix it up out of boredom from playing it so often. After the song the band held up glasses as though saying “cheers” to the audience, who reacted in applause. Bjorn simply stated, “We play music.” They ended the show with a song from “The Feelies,” a late-70s punk band. At this point Peter had lost his voice from his rendition of “Young Folks,” making the song even grittier with uncharacteristic distorted guitars and an up-tempo push away from their usual, post-modern faire.
Rather than feeling as though one had witnessed a show, it felt more akin to having a casual night in the lap of luxury, with the band playing as though they decided to do so at the last minute and strictly for the sake of fun. Words like “mellow” and “laid-back” fit nicely in the description of their performance. Not a bad thing considering the lavish surroundings and the amount of eye candy for all to see. By all accounts, Peter Bjorn and John had a lot of competition from the event itself, but they pulled off a memorable appearance despite this.