concert reviews

Pete Yorn Unplugged: Overpowered
Pete Yorn at the Birchmere, Alexandria, VA, Tuesday 8 August 2006

An acoustic tour before an album release typically gives a singer an opportunity to debut new material in a simpler, quieter format. Pete Yorn's current acoustic tour seemed poised to follow that formula: He played the Birchmere on Tuesday night, three weeks before the release of his third album, "Nightcrawler."

The three-piece band that joined him onstage after half an hour should have bolstered Yorn's shaky solo set. Backed only by an acoustic guitar, his warbling voice sounded hoarse and whiny, and he seemed uncomfortable alone onstage. A self-deprecating comment about a tricky guitar part on "Sleep Better" ("It's very hard to play and sing!") came across as awkward and unpolished.

Unfortunately, the backing band was no improvement. It stripped Yorn's music of any subtlety and added a rowdiness that clashed with the Birchmere's sedate atmosphere. The songs' speedy tempos and boisterous volumes called for dancing and raucous singalongs, rather than an attentive, seated crowd. These limitations worked in Yorn's favor on a few countrified rock songs from a new EP, "Westerns." A song he originally wrote for Nancy Sinatra, "It Don't Mean Nothing," was enhanced by a bouncy tempo and his thin, twangy voice. But for the most part, Yorn's songs drowned under his band's sound, and this louder group would have fit better at a larger, less intimate venue than at a so-called acoustic performance.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 10 August 2006; Page C04
.: Selected discography: Nightcrawler (Pete Yorn, 2006); Day I Forgot (Pete Yorn, 2003); Musicforthemorningafter (Pete Yorn, 2001).