Concert Reviews
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Live Review: Pete Yorn, Ben Kweller in Chicago (2/23)

on February 25, 2011, 9:25am

Pete Yorn often gets lumped in with overly earnest singer-songwriters such as John Mayer and Ray LaMontagne, and understandably so. While his everyman tunes possess more of a classic rock edge, the production has always been slightly subdued, more focused on studio tweaks than raw musicianship, giving the impression that he’s holding something back on his albums. Thankfully, all of his axe hero indulgences and ’70s swagger are cathartically released in his live performances, due to both a crack backing band and beefed up arrangements of even his mellowest songs.

Following the crystalline folk pleasantries of The Wellspring, second opener Ben Kweller giddily skipped on the stage for a solo set. While his sincere crowd interactions sweetened his golden AM cuts, he could have benefited from a full band to give his songs the more fully orchestrated punch found on the majority of his albums. Some artists (Ted Leo comes to mind) can hold a crowd with just their voice and a guitar, and some simply can’t. Kweller fell into the latter category, showing sparks of frenetic brilliance whenever he kicked up the distortion, but otherwise falling shy of a wholly compelling show.

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Photo by Joshua Mellin

After a short break, Yorn and company strode onstage shrouded in darkness, nonchalantly picking up their instruments and launching into a rousing full band version of Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good Again”, known to Yorn fans as the opening rarity from Live In New Jersey. The lights blasted fluorescent as Nightcrawler gem “For Us” followed suit, the band backlit by artful projections of neon cityscapes, shutter-speed nature backgrounds, and nostalgic watercolor paintings, bathing the entire show in a kaleidoscopic environment that was retro without being kitschy. “For Us” is typically a faster number, but bassist Zak Shaffer, lead guitarist Mark Noseworthy, and drummer Scott Seiver added an extra layer of rhythmic muscle, diversifying the song’s steady beat with meaty backing vocals and minor soloing. “Precious Stone”, the opening track from his latest self-titled album continued the trend of spiced up arrangements, starting with a purposely stalled intro that gradually segued into a full band kick.

Yorn’s sleepier songs benefited the most from the live treatment, with hushed breezes such as “Sans Fear” and “Stronger” getting slightly punkified to hold their own against the rest of the raucous set. A cover of “Rockin’ In The Free World” and first encore “Burrito” received opposite reworkings, their distorted momentum slowed down and sparsely dramatized by nothing more than Yorn’s slightly slurred howl and acoustic guitar. These quiet moments were strategically placed after anthemic rockers “Velcro Shoes” and ubiquitous musicforthemorningafter single ”For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)”, making their singular focus all the more punctuated and affective.

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Photo by Joshua Mellin

Yorn’s only blunder was the inclusion of slogging cock rocker “Always”. The song’s lethargic nu metal pace and generic chorus of “bring it on” performed in front of projections of slow motion flames was an exercise in half-baked machismo, and the sole weak spot in an altogether stellar show. Luckily, the encore set snapped back into Technicolor with the twinkling majesty of “Crystal Village” and classic Yorn closer “Murray”. The entire evening was a reminder that Yorn can rock out with the best of them, his heart forever hanging proudly in the garage. The guy’s last album was produced by Frank Black, for God’s sake, and even in a snub nose indie world, that’s got to count for something.

Photography by Joshua Mellin.

Setlist:
I Feel Good Again (Junior Kimbrough cover)”
For Us
Precious Stone
Rock Crowd
Life On A Chain
Just Another
Sans Fear
Velcro Shoes
Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young cover – solo)
All At Once
Stronger Than
Bad Man
Strange Condition
Closet
For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)
Encore:
Burrito (solo)
Always
Crystal Village
Murray
——

5473198102 8cea9c41df o Live Review: Pete Yorn, Ben Kweller in Chicago (2/23)

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