The quarter-mile line that wrapped an entire city block in front of the Basement in Columbus a couple hours before Pete Yorn’s show was alarming, to say the least, until I realized it wasn’t for Yorn at all. Hundreds of shoe-staring adolescents with pink hair and fishnet hose were braving the early July heat to see Dresden Dolls and Panic at the Disco perform next door at an open air pavilion. After all, the Basement is but an underground bar (literally) that holds no more than 400 people. Yorn sold out this stop on his limited “You & Me” acoustic tour in just 30 minutes. Unlike the skate-punk rock scene that was carrying on next door, this crowd was mostly 20 and 30-somethings in ball caps and flip flops, and all were hardcore, know-every-lyric Yorn fans who would have gladly paid more than the mere $20 face price to be here (just ask the throng of scalpers out front!).
With no opening act and as stripped down and basic a stage as you could ever hope to find, Yorn strolled out by himself, to an acoustic guitar and lone microphone stand, around nine o’clock. Nothing more than a shit-eating grin of approval greeted the crowd. He strapped on the guitar and jumped right into “For Nancy” from his first record, Musicforthemorningafter, a perfect opener. The crowd was neither moshing nor slam dancing, but instead standing in place with their overpriced beer, having very little wiggle room around them. Once Yorn was on, there was a sense of competing for the best vantage point. Could you see over the six-foot-tall kid in front of you? Did you want to settle for a side view of the stage? Is that unoccupied space ten feet away further from the bar and bathroom?
The Basement, as a point of future reference, is a very challenging venue for concert-goers because it is so compact and there are several large cement posts which tend to obstruct a clear view to the small submerged stage. If you arrive early enough and never care to go to the bathroom, then you could get a great spot right on top of the stage, literally feet from the performer. But everyone else is left shifting for position throughout the night, never really finding the perfect spot.
By the time “For Nancy” gave way to “Come Back Home” and “All At Once,” both from Day I Forgot, most people had given up on jockeying for a better position and merely settled in for an intimate, even subdued, acoustic set. The sound quality of Yorn’s voice and his six-stringed Fender was flawless. The crowd remained surprisingly hushed, though singing along, until the end of each song when they would politely applaud or bark out a request. A few songs in, Yorn took a moment to greet the fans, thanking them for all the kind emails and gestures of the week. His grandmother had passed away only days before, and the tour had been put on hold while Yorn flew across country to be with family. The Indianapolis show had been rescheduled the night before, and for a while it seemed this show was in jeopardy, too. Yorn acknowledged that as quickly as the Columbus date sold out he wasn’t about to miss it.
The crowd approved as Yorn eventually introduced a mate on electric piano who helped usher in a beautiful version of “Lose You.” Though much of Yorn’s material is not high-energy rock and roll, these fans knew and respected the quieter presentation of songs like “Lose You.” Still, I got the feeling that if the entire show was going to remain Yorn and his guitar, with no full-band accompaniment, my interest could wane and his momentum with the crowd might slow.
Fortunately, that would not be an issue, as five songs deep in the set, his drummer and bassist walked out and lit fire to a reckless take on Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good Again.” Yorn remained plugged into his acoustic guitar, but the band really brought things to life. “Just Another,” “Pass Me By,” and certainly the crowd favorite “Life on a Chain” would not have been nearly as well received without the fully-charged improvement of these backing musicians. Doing very little between-song bantering with the packed house, other than introducing a few new songs, Yorn seemed intent on blowing through as many tracks from his two-album back catalog as he could. The new album, Nightcrawler, is due out in August and Yorn has said it would be the final installment in a music trilogy (encompassing his first three releases).
From the Nightcrawler album, he made a special effort to introduce and perform “Bandstand in the Sky,” “Georgie Boy,” and “Same Thing,” any one of which could have easily been from Musicforthemorningafter or Day I Forgot sessions. He did such a good job of tucking these new songs between the recognizable favorites, however, that the show flowed well and never hit a period of boredom. Further, Yorn has long shown a knack for covers and this night was no different, doing the Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and a killer run through Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation,” both during the extended encore.
Hitting the gas pedal towards the end of the regular set, Yorn and the boys tore through “Crystal Village,” “Strange Condition,” and “Black” in a span of time that seemed like a minute. A five song encore concluded with a wide-open version of “Closet,” complete with the backing vocals of a few hundred sweaty patrons, then Yorn walked off to a frothy ovation some two hours after starting. Never one to distance himself from the folks who pay his bills, Yorn arrived out at the merchandise table not ten minutes later to sign CD’s and take pictures with the oh-so-grateful fans who stuck around. It really did feel like you were seeing and hanging out with a guy who hadn’t yet sold a single CD at Best Buy. Boy, it’s nice to see $20 actually get you something these days!