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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Pete Yorn at Henry Fonda Theater

August 29, 2009|Mikael Wood

"This one is possibly the most misunderstood song in my catalog," Pete Yorn said Thursday night at the Henry Fonda Theater before he and his five-piece band launched into a propulsive version of his song "Burrito."

A ruggedly handsome New Jersey native who's "been playing in this town for 15 years," Yorn doesn't really seem like the misunderstood type.

He has an undeniable knack for catchy pop-rock tunes full of precise Everydude language -- "Leave out the others, baby / Say I'm the only one," he sang in "Strange Condition" -- but little about his four studio albums suggests the hidden presence of something deeper or more profound.

The complicated line causing such scrutiny in "Burrito"? "If you want a burrito, you can have another bite of mine."

Yorn appeared intermittently satisfied with that reputation at the Henry Fonda, where he played two nights to wrap a two-month U.S. tour in support of his latest record, "Back and Fourth."

In "Life on a Chain," the breakout hit from his 2001 debut, "Musicforthemorningafter," he spiked his group's robust bar-band groove with an appealingly ragged harmonica solo, while a grunge-folk take on New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" summoned a sensual babe-magnet melancholy.

Introducing "The Man," a lovely acoustic number from 2006's "Nightcrawler" album, Yorn asked if anyone in the audience came to the concert with a significant other. "This one's for the couples," he said with a little chuckle, in apparent recognition of his music's date-night utility.

At other points during his 90-minute set, though, Yorn seemed unfulfilled by that small-time role, as though there were no greater horror than being sandwiched on someone's iPod playlist between the Fray and Colbie Caillat.

Mistaking volume for weight, he and his band opened the new album's "Last Summer" with an aimless instrumental passage, then drove the song to an overblown climax of three-guitar noise.

And during "Social Development Dance" -- a mournful ballad "about a girl from Syracuse," Yorn said -- the musicians were joined by a remarkably enthusiastic tambourine player who evidently believed he was jamming with the Who.

Throughout the concert, too, a cameraman darted around onstage, presumably recording the proceedings for a movie Yorn said he was making. (The film world is a familiar one for the singer: Yorn's brother is the high-powered Hollywood talent manager Rick Yorn, and next month he's set to release a charmingly low-key duo album with Scarlett Johansson.)

The presence of a camera is nothing unusual, of course, in this age of the multi-platform media star.

Still, on Thursday it only served to point up the lightweight quality of Yorn's material -- and how deeply Yorn wants that material to be taken more seriously than it is.

You had to wonder: Were these breezy little love songs really worth all the trouble?

--

calendar@latimes.com

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