Pete Yorn, New Jersey’s greatest singer-songwriter to emerge in the 21st century, returned to Asbury Park’s iconic Stone Pony on Wednesday night, touring in support of his 7th album ArrangingTime. The space-saving title of Yorn’s latest album is seemingly a call back to his first album, musicforthemorningafter. Yorn’s latest LP also shares other aspects of his earliest work, rejoined by collaborator R. Walt Vincent whose last Yorn production was on his second album Day I Forgot. This is the best of Yorn’s signature sound, mixing finely crafted pop melodies with thought-provoking lyrics, all blanketed in an astounding musicianship. Along the way, he brings new surprises to the fold, with some of his most modern sounding yet nostalgia-minded music lending itself to his stellar live show.
Around 8 p.m., via Twitter, Yorn coyly announced he was “hauling ass down the Turnpike” to get to Asbury Park, following an afternoon taping for that evening’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. At 8:30 there was still plenty of open air to move about the venue, and by 9 p.m. there was little room to navigate the filled space as a buzz of friendly conversations among the patient crowd, and clanking bottles behind the bar acted as a pre-show overture. 9:30 arrived as the crew members continued to move around the stage, checking mics and instruments, whether stalling or perfecting the setup, in either case no one cared, it was time for a show. Yorn quickly sauntered onstage at 9:40 with little fanfare and by himself, mostly unnoticed. The crowd was surprised by his entrance as he explained they ran late, so the show would serve double duty as their sound check. Most any musical act would give their drummer to have a so-called sound check this impeccable.
Adding to the excitement in any live rock show is the buzz of a hometown crowd. While Yorn makes his home on the west coast now, he is undoubtedly a product of the northeast. His catalog is built on a realism and inviting intimacy to the heart and mind forged with the listener over 15 years of an occasionally shared path. This long tended to effort was ever present during the show. Yorn’s show is more a conversation with his audience than performance. These conversations come by way of his music often interjected with stories of its origins, like funny descriptions of what exactly a “hot country Vermont” girl was in his song “Social Development Dance,” to lamenting about missing Bruce Springsteen’s tour of The River in California because he booked this tour.
This was a loose and refreshingly authentic performance by a musician who has remained consistently skillful at crafting songs that grab hold of the listener and make them reflect, or at the very least, feel something. Yorn told the crowd he would play the first song someone yelled out. One of his most sprawling anthems if Yorn ever wrote one, “Undercover,” from his third album Nightcrawler is scarcely played at his shows, but the crowd was treated to a slowed acoustic take of it. The audience was eerily silent as Yorn played the song in similar style to the piano-only version of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” that opened his pre-stadium and arena shows over 40 years ago.
Most incredible is not only how Yorn physically appears timeless, looking nearly identical to the era of his debut 15 years ago, but his voice remains a wonder as well, precise while still unrefined and striking, even in its softer moments. There’s clearly no cleanup done on his albums as his vocals in concert remain authentic to his recordings. Classics from musicforthemorningafter such as “Murray,” “Strange Condition,” “Closet” and “For Nancy (Cos’ It Already Is)” not only generated the biggest reactions and interactions from the crowd, but they also were so faithfully recreated vocally and with some choice unique musical alterations sounding like they could have been recorded for his latest effort. This growth in Yorn’s music has progressed naturally on his solo albums as well as his collaborative works, the spectacularly catchy modern pop record Break Up recorded with Scarlett Johansson and more recently, The Olms, his 1960’s pop throwback project with J.D. King.
The new songs from ArrangingTime were worthy companions among Yorn’s older material as they sounded loyal to his signature sound while also stretching his musical boundaries to give the show a vast palette to draw from. New song “Summer Was A Day” or “She Was Weird” might be jarring otherwise when compared to Yorn’s most popular music. However, when placed in between his classic songs like “Murray,” “Strange Condition” or “Pass Me By” in the set they heightened their impact. The audience truly enjoyed these songs that many of them were hearing for the first time, especially his new single, the suburban day tripper, “Lost Weekend” and the jarring Los Angeles ballad “Roses.”
Other highlights of the show included the desert drifting hypnosis of new song “Halifax,” and any songs that benefited from the Swiss Army knife efficiency of Yorn’s longtime guitarist/synth/keyboard/harmonica player Joey Kennedy such as “Just Another,” “I’m Not the One” and “Black.” For all the diversity in Kennedy’s playing Yorn was highly efficient with his setup, leaving the same acoustic guitar strapped on for the entire show, expertly strumming away, subtly accompanying his bevy of songs.
Pete Yorn’s tour continues in Philadelphia tonight at the Theater of the Living Arts and continues through the end of April closing out with an appearance at Coachella. More information can be found on Yorn’s website.
1. Undercover (solo acoustic)
2. Paradise Cove (solo acoustic)
4. Summer Was A Day
5. Strange Condition
6. Pass Me By
7. She Was Weird
8. Social Development Dance
11. Lost Weekend
12. Just Another
13. The Man
14. I’m Not the One
16. For Nancy (Cos’ It Already Is)
17. All At Once (acoustic)
18. On Your Side
20. Life On A Chain