Singer-songwriter Pete Yorn walked onto the tiny Grog Shop stage last night looking like he was a slightly disheveled character from a Wes Anderson film, his head hung low and his signature wavy hair threatening to hide his face from the crowd with every bounce and head turn. He began his solo, acoustic show with the haunted track "Vampyre" off his 2006 album Nightcrawler
Yorn quickly engaged the crowd by admitting he had been backstage watching the Oregon Ducks game on his phone. They were losing, and he asked that someone please let him know if the game turned around in the Ducks' favor while he was on stage. He said he likes the Ducks because he likes birds, and ducks are birds. This statement made complete sense coming from Yorn.
He warned the crowd that he had been a “Chatty Cathy” the past week, which he felt could change at any moment. He gushed about how much he loves Cleveland, and that he always visits Cleveland during his tours except for the last one due to having a baby at home but joked that she is 3-years-old now, so he doesn't need to be home anymore. He reminded everyone that the Eagles were also playing in Cleveland last night, and said if he wasn't performing, he would probably be at the Eagles show, admitting he would understand if we all left to go see the Eagles instead. Yorn then performed a few bars of the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling," which flowed directly into the song that ignited his career, "Life on a Chain."
The self-deprecation continued as Yorn introduced "Knew Enough to Know Nothing at All" by saying he had recorded a studio version that was terrible and never made it on any of his albums, but a version that he loved which he recorded in a garage appeared on a Japanese import. Halfway through the song, he forgot the words until a fan sang them out, which jogged Yorn's memory as he continued with his song. Somehow, this flub made Yorn even more endearing. His entire set felt like a lost episode of MTV's Unplugged
, stuffed full of anecdotes and sheepish dorky humor. Yorn was authentic in his banter, talking to us all like we were old friends sharing secrets on a cold October night.
"Closet" and "Lost Weekend" brought us all closer and ready to participate in singing along to "Just Another." Yorn said "Social Development Dance" is the most literal song he's ever written, which he said is not his typical writing style. His rasp felt raw and real with every track, exposed and frozen in the air like a growing storm cloud. Yorn himself is much like a cloud, at times fluffy and soft, and others dark and menacing. But the darkness always seems to turn to light because at his core he has the sweet soul of a kitten.
Yorn shared that he thinks about the sequence of songs on his albums, and when he buys an album from another artist, he will often listen to the last track first to see if they are making a statement. He said "This Fire" was the last track on his last album and sang it with such intimacy that it became impossible to deny that we were all extremely lucky to be in that dingy room last night, listening to Yorn's words and guitar strums, that this was a moment in time never to be recreated. Next up was "Pure Stone," which Yorn said is a pure love song that has some doubt in it because "that's what I do," but he assured us it had a happy ending in real life. Yorn then performed a soft, slow cover of the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out."
Then, Yorn was back to making jokes, saying, "Here's where I sing my New Kids on the Block song" before singing his own song, "Turn of the Century." Yorn got the harmonica out for the his next song "Bandstand in the Sky," a song he said he wrote five minutes after hearing singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley had passed away. He said Buckley was on the same label as him, Columbia Records, and it was clear from his delivery and words that the death of the young, talented artist was a profound loss for Yorn, who closed out his set with an impassioned delivery of his hit "Strange Condition."
Yorn waved goodbye as he walked the five short feet to the back of the stage, which had walls covered in deep maroon velvet curtains. Yorn went behind one of the curtains, his hand clearly visible as he hid behind it while everyone cheered, beckoning him back on stage for an encore. He then revealed himself moments later as if he had actually gone somewhere, arms up in the air greeting the crowd yet again as he made a beeline for one woman who was in the right place at the right time because he walked right over and gave her a giant hug, as if embracing a long lost friend. The entire room was laughing and smiling at this goofy, hilarious moment. He began his encore with "A Girl Like You" and then performed "Crystal Village," his voice increasingly more hushed until it was at a near whisper for the most tender moments of the gem of a song. Yorn then treated us to two Bruce Springsteen covers, the lesser known "Your Own Worst Enemy" and the Springsteen megahit "Dancing in the Dark."
Before closing the night, Yorn said he promised himself he would sing at least one new song. He said he has 18 new songs ready for a new album and to remember that we all heard this one first. Aptly titled "Can't Stop You," it was a song he wrote about not being able to cut a toxic person out of your life. The final song was the very well known "For Nancy ('Cos It Already Is)" which gave the room crowd the last endorphin jolt before sending us on our way. Yorn thanked the crowd, giving strangers hugs and handshakes before retreating backstage, probably to check the outcome of his beloved Ducks game.