Pete Yorn, both a critical and commercial success story, broke hearts and remained handsome at the Ogden Theatre on Wednesday night. Yorn let his self-titled album (produced by Frank Black) see the light of day in September, and the slight departure from catchy pop charmers to louder, deliberate rockers set this tour up to be a test of Yorn’s image.
Everything about Yorn’s stage seemed like an attempt at reinvention, but why? His fans turned out; it wasn’t a full house, though he had plenty of enthusiastic support. His fresh backing band was comprised of absolute pros, but they furthered my impression that polish and practice were chosen over passion. There was a promotion on the show poster for buying your $30 ticket in advance in order to get a free copy of the new album. None of these happenings seemed representative of Yorn’s success.
Yorn’s set remained close to studio quality as he played plenty of old favorites after most of the new stuff was trotted out early on. He played to his fans, not at them, and was directly engaged even if the banter all seemed as polished as the songs. The first several rows in the pit, the folks on the front railing of the balcony and the dude with the huge cardboard “Jersey” sign were obviously having a great time. But for the most part (and by “most” I mean well over half the people in attendance), Yorn played very straightforward singer-songwriter rock with no surprises or moments that sparked excitement.
Opening act Ben Kweller ran an extremely distracting live webcast of his solo set. Kweller is a showman that is at his best in the smallest of clubs — with a band. All of the camera operators and headset wearers coordinating with the army in the sound booth didn’t make Kweller’s performance any more palatable to the majority of Yorn fans who probably hadn’t heard of him. It was impossible to avoid staring at the giant, obtrusive monitor in the booth to see just how easy it was for the crew to co-opt what was obviously Yorn’s crowd as extras in their documentation.
Marc Hobelman makes websites at The Denver Post, tweets pictures of his cat, and is a regular contributor to Reverb.