Pete Yorn @ Webster Hall

NEW YORK, NY—Let it be known that July 29, 2009 was an abysmal night to drive into the city for a show. The bulk of the evening saw the Tri-State area get hammered with severe thunderstorms that reached near biblical proportions that doused up to two inches of rain in some areas and illuminated the sky with magnificent lightening bolts and filled the air with thunder claps that could put the fear of God in you. Traffic was an utter pain heading into and within New York City and thanks to my astute sense of direction, I ended up taking a brief detour through Brooklyn before finally reaching my destination at Webster Hall.

I was disappointed to find that I had missed the opener, Zee Avi (see note on weather). I did take the time to check out the Malaysian singer-songwriter’s MySpace before writing this review. She reminds me of a more innocent sounding and cheerier Norah Jones with a romantic mix of folk, pop, and jazz complimented with an “island sound” achieved with a ukulele and a leisurely strummed acoustic guitar. It’s too bad I was unable to hear this sound come to life at this show, but it’s certainly worth the listen nonetheless.

Keeping in mind the hazardous weather conditions I’d just experienced, I wondered who in their right mind would leave the safety of their own home just to see a show? Pete Yorn fans, that’s who. Mother Nature’s wrath was no match for the dedicated throngs of Yornians who made their way through the wet New York City streets to Webster Hall to witness Pete Yorn’s second night at the venue. The near capacity (if not full capacity) turn out for the second night of this show was surprising on it’s own. It’s even more mind boggling when you factor in that Yorn just played a show just about a week before at Montclair’s Wellmont Theater. This man is obviously doing something right.

Another factor that brought so many to this show was hearing some new songs from Yorn’s recently released, and cleverly titled, Back And Fourth. This is his first full-length release in three years and, as the title would have it, fourth full-length release overall. The new cuts went over famously with crowd, who swayed and danced with relish to songs like “Shotgun,” “Close,” “Social Development Dance,” “Last Summer,” and the single, “Don’t Wanna Cry.” The songs tread territory that is familiar to Yorn’s catalogue with songs about love yearned, love gained, and love lost. Pete has a talent for crafting heartfelt and poppy songs that keep the ladies swooning while maintaining a certain ruggedness that ensures that the male listener isn’t alienated entirely. The proof was in the crowd which was evenly split in terms of the male/female ratio.

Besides for the new material, Yorn and company played a hefty portion of the debut record, musicforthemorningafter, while only playing one or two cuts from Nightcrawler and Day I Forgot. This seemed to work out for the best, as the audience responded much more resoundingly to material from musicforthemorningafter and Back & Fourth. From start to finish, the band and the audience had a strong rapport that only enhanced the band’s air tight performance. During “Life On A Chain” the crowd sang the entire first verse on their own before Pete could even get the words out. The audience hardly even missed a beat as they sang the “uh huh huhs” between the verses in “Murray.”

From the start of the set, Pete and his bandmates were in good form and spirits, but weren’t extraordinarily energetic. Halfway through the set the room’s energy became much more electric as the band played “Strange Condition.” This song was clearly the favorite for the crowd on this night, and the already small ambient gap between audience and performer finally drew to a euphoric close. Yorn and his band clearly sensed this energy and finally let all their excitement loose. Pete’s face glowed as he swayed and jumped around as if he was hit by a sudden sugar rush and sang every word with a deeper passion than what’s heard on record. Wild-haired guitarist, Jonny Polonski, wielded his axe madly as if possessed by his own leads, while clean-cut bassist Mark Noseworthy bopped and grooved along with his smoothly played bass lines.

By the end of the set, it was patently obvious that the audience wasn’t going away without an encore. Pete and the band returned to the stage almost immediately and graced the audience with “On Your Side,” “Closet,” and then frosting the cake with For Nancy (Cos It Already Is).” I was surprised that the band decided not to play more from the new record, but the audience was obviously pleased with what they got as they slowly made their way back out onto the wet streets from whence they came.