Tonight, Pete Yorn is playing to a packed house at the Mercury Lounge, a tiny venue in New York City’s Lower East Side (he will later say that it reminds him of his basement in New Jersey). Tomorrow he’ll play the famed punk rock club CBGBs, but tonight is more than special in its own right.
Yorn sets the table with three tracks from his long-awaited third studio album, Nightcrawler, a collection of his signature moody alt-pop songs. “Vampyre” starts things off nicely, with its climactic ending throwing the audience into a frenzy. This is followed by the Byrdsian “For Us” and “Undercover,” a song originally released on the seriously cheesy soundtrack to Spider-Man (though it was one of the album’s few highlights). One thing that runs true for just about every Pete Yorn song is the sense that each was created as a work of seminal pop—each hook-driven, with readily recognizable bridges, choruses and repeating figures. Now, whether or not the indie snobs can relate to the fact that Yorn scored a movie and is slightly more commercialized than your average singer-songwriter is one thing. But this reviewer thinks that we’d all enjoy having Yorn’s stuff on the radio a lot more than Britney Spears’.
Yorn delves heavily into his first album and masterwork of sorts, Musicforthemorningafter. “For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)” gets the crowd singing along, and energetic versions of “Closet, “Just Another” and “Strange Condition” make their way into the mix. A fantastic version of “Murray” also shows up late in the set, and “On Your Side” (which an audience member had previously requested) brings down the house.
Now, some rockers these days have trouble “keepin’ it real” (i.e., not taking themselves too seriously). Yorn is not one of these. Over the course of the night, he plays more than your average amount of cover songs, some better than others. A fabulous, lo-fi rendition of The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” sneaks its way into the set (with Yorn’s bassist doing justice to the high harmony on the chorus), along with a spot-on cover of Warren Zevon’s tongue-in-cheek classic “Splendid Isolation” (also included on the new album). A so-so version of the Elvis Presley classic “Suspicious Minds” gets a lukewarm reception from the audience and fails to be much more than a lame novelty.
The night reaches a pinnacle with a track from the oft-forgotten Day I Forgot, “Burrito.” An odd song, where the verse-to-chorus modulation would make any songwriter jealous, it reminds everyone in attendance tonight that they are in the presence of something otherworldly these days—a pop artist who doesn’t suck.