Yorn's the low point of his own show

May 3, 2003

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic


Plenty of pop wannabes shamelessly court success--there's nothing unusual about that. But California singer-songwriter Pete Yorn is one of those all-too-eager sellouts who want to appear hip while pandering.

The former drummer jams with Liz Phair on a notoriously titled track from her new album (a name that can't be printed in the paper). He's been known to pull stunts such as heckling the infinitely cooler Strokes from the balcony at Metro. And he's chosen two undeniably hip opening acts for his current tour in support of the new album, "Day I Forgot."

The latter decision backfired on him during a packed show at the Riviera Theatre Thursday night, when both openers outshined the pretty-boy headliner, underscoring the thoroughly derivative, unbearably boring nature of his faux-rootsy sounds.

Not for nothing do detractors call him "Pete Yawn."

The young quintet Rooney kicked things off. While there was nothing particularly original about its particular attempt at New Wave revivalism, at least it could deliver some memorable tunes.

The stars of the night, though, were the five members of the Modesto, Calif., psychedelic-pop band Grandaddy.

Notoriously reticent onstage and in person, guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Jason Lytle and his mates relied on witty, well-chosen film clips to provide the eye candy during their 40-minute set. But they barely needed the distraction.

The songs from Grandaddy's 2000 album, "Sophtware Slump," and the forthcoming "Sumday" are effervescent and intoxicating, full of giddy hooks, strange sonic ambiences, oddly askew guitars and synthesizers and endearing vocal hooks delivered in a plaintive, Neil Young-like whine.

Grandaddy evinced more ambition and originality in one tune than Yorn displayed in his entire bombastic set (which followed an annoying 45-minute delay, no doubt due to the "himbo" star preening backstage so that his long black locks would look their best when he finally surfaced).

If Yorn were able to dish out a memorable melody or two, he might qualify as the male Sheryl Crow--an obvious pretender, but a guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, he's too busy trying to appear heartfelt, sincere, serious and, you know, "heavy" in that sub- sub- sub-Dylan way.

Yorn's formula is obvious: He attempts to cross Americana roots-rock a la Wilco and the Jayhawks with post-alternative arena-rock in the style of Pearl Jam.

If there's a more contrived act in the current pop spectrum this side of P. Diddy, I've yet to encounter it. And at least Puffy is being honest by just blatantly stealing (I mean "sampling") his plundered tunes.

Backed by a tight, professional and equally yawn-inducing four-piece band, Yorn switched between electric and acoustic guitars as he yodeled such dreadful non-ditties as "Committed" and "Long Way Down." But the nadir came when he put down his ax and jumped into the crowd to bask in the love of his misguided fans, sharing the mike so they could croon along, and bumming a few drags off their cigarettes.

One longed for people at close range to slap some taste into the warblin' fool while they had the opportunity, but it's doubtful that it would have done any good.