Streaming from his Palm Desert home, Pete Yorn performed an entirely acoustic play through of his second album Day I Forgot (2003), some songs of which haven’t been performed live in years, and others, such as “Committed,” never at all. This was a followup to a recent play through of his first album, musicforthemorningafter (2001), which streamed on July 25. There were a few surprises, including fragments of other songs, a classic cover and a trip to the piano for good measure.
For the most part, the performance was close and intimate: just Pete and his laptop, playing in front of a wall covered with drawings by his daughter, Bee. All of them have been made during the pandemic, and he enjoys seeing how she’s grown over these months. Far better than his Barney drawings, he says, referring to a series of his own scribbles that he occasionally posts to social media of the purple dinosaur loved by children but often reviled by parents. Each song got a special introduction: what it’s about, what inspired it, what went into the production, or, in the case of the Ken Andrews-produced “Long Way Down”—the version that made it onto the record—what it felt like blasting it in his brother’s car while tearing down Doheny drive between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.
Yorn’s delivery was relaxed, allowing his subdued vibrato to tickle the long notes, often lilting upward in articulate cracks when the emotional effort overwhelmed the quietude of what was essentially a bedroom concert. Even though there was no bed on camera, that sums up the general vibe; it’s fitting, considering how it could be where Yorn’s insightful and introspective lyrics have heard the most play. Of course, there were some rockers whose bright energy percolated through: “When You See the Light,” the eighth track on the record and seventh in the set (the 47-second track one song fragment “Intro” was not played), which Yorn says was written in response to the 18 months of touring in support his first album after which he felt ready to really belt something out, was played in energizing pulses of triplets that gave way to shining, climactic choruses.
For “Turn of the Century,” on the other hand, a trip to what appeared to be his living room grand piano, had the somber tone of the Smiths’ “Asleep,” as a couple of fans in the chat box aptly pointed out. This departure from “the bedroom” wasn’t only a tonal shift in instrument, but the microphone placement shifted the balance of his voice and called forth the “mouth noise” of the sort heard on tender recordings. As for the piano, people could practically feel the velvet on the tips of the hammers, though the notes they produced were viscous and without sharp attack or distinction. This performance carried with it a warm and somehow resolved hauntingness that could stand on its own as a recording, even though the video streamed betrayed his studied focus of the keys which made it obvious this isn’t Yorn’s instrument of choice. But from the audio alone, one would never suspect.
Along with Yorn’s candor and reminiscence, a few fun interludes broke up the track list. The chord progressions of “Pass Me By” and “Burrito” reminded him of other songs, of which he played and sang a few bars (The Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” respectively). “Committed,” which he said was written to be a rebuttal to Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise,” prompted Yorn to perform a couple minutes of Bruce first to show the comparison. The mirroring is interesting to hear juxtaposed with how Bruce’s drag-down notes at the end of verse lines are answered by Yorn’s dips down and back up, as if to pull the sentiment out of the mire. Rebuttal is a perfect way to describe the structure, and a stroke of genius in terms of songwriting.
Yorn followed this pattern of course correction when he reached the end of the set. Dissatisfied and unable to end a set with the exasperative “So Much Work,” he drew once again from his bag of inspirations to play the upbeat, Elvis-popularized “Suspicious Minds,” originally written and first recorded by Mark James. After thanking the surprisingly long list of people required to make the livestream happen, and plugging the merch (including a mask, and a bag with one of his Barneys on it), Yorn leaned close to the webcam and, perhaps teasing the possibility of his next livestream, smirked: “Cheers, y’all. What’s next?”