Live Review: Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn—The Pageant—St. Louis, MO—August 9, 2009
I would imagine that Pete Yorn is having a lot of fun these days. In June, he released a well-received, hot-selling album, Back & Fourth, and he has another record, a set of duets with Scarlett Johansson (!), coming out next month, all while touring with a superb band, coming off a leg opening for Coldplay and now headlining packed clubs, heavy with girls who make eyes at him while playing with their hair. It would be easy to hate on Yorn if it seemed like he was trying too hard to strike the right poses, but last night in St. Louis, he nailed an appealing balance between rock-star charisma and workmanlike songcraft during a 90-minute, 17-song set.
The show started with pounding drums, a dark stage, and thick fog before Yorn broke into “Black” from his 2001 debut, Music for the Morning After (sorry, I’m eschewing the all-lower-case business). It’s an album that still looms large in New Yorn City—a whopping seven tunes tonight were from that record, two more than were played from the new album. It was, after all, a killer debut, and revisiting songs like “Murray” (inspired by “Suspicious Minds,” he told us) and “Closet,” played with rollicking gusto, was a convincing reminder. In fact, “Life on a Chain” was so much fun that I forgive Yorn for that scratchy record cliché that opened the song on the album.
Elsewhere, Yorn dipped just barely into Day I Forgot (his sophomore slump) and Nightcrawler (his underrated third LP), playing only two songs from each. But the songs from Back & Fourth (get it? Fourth?) were all winners, none more than “Social Development Dance”—a song about a guy who meets a girl with enormous breasts who already has a boyfriend but has a fling with him anyway; he later loses track of her (“I Googled you in quotes, got no results”) and then finds out that she has died from cancer. It’s a stunning song, played last night with the devastating beauty it deserves.
Yorn came with quite an arsenal, a seven-piece band, gunning a triple-guitar attack, usually with Pete on acoustic, Mark Noseworthy playing rolling chord patterns on a Strat, and Jonny Polonsky strangling high squalls from his Telecaster. Scott Seiver is a whale of a drummer, as well (although I caught a laptop computer providing a little percussion a couple of times). The whole mix was occasionally boisterous, but always tasteful, with Polonsky playing mandolin a third of the time, as on the Laurel Canyon lilt of “The Man.” The new songs, of course, hit harder live than they do on the relatively languid studio versions, forcing Yorn to push his voice far beyond the hazy whisper you hear on Back & Fourth, and it was nice to hear him reach the sheeny edges at the top of his range.
And get this. Some dude in the crowd kept yelling, “Bruuuuuce!” after every song for the first hour of the show. Yorn is a New Jersey native and noted Springsteen admirer, but I figured he had to be getting annoyed; finally, he claimed that he was enjoying it and even played the first verse of “Hungry Heart” toward the end of the main set over the chords to “Don’t Wanna Cry” before bleeding into that song. Speaking of covers, they also played New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” (“I love the words to this song,” he explained), which worked great—he sang the chorus with only the piano for the night’s biggest singalong.
The show ended with a three-song encore, including a soaring “Last Summer” from the new record and a thundering version of “Nancy” from the debut. Compare him to another more-famous Jersey rocker if you must, but ’09 is looking like the year that Yorn establishes once and for all that he has the songs, the skill, and the swagger to stake his own impressive individual ground. “Peeeeeete!”
3.Life on a Chain
10.Social Development Dance
12.Bizarre Love Triangle
13.Hungry Heart–>Don’t Wanna Cry
16.On Your Side
17.For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)