If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the music world, it’s that if you don’t move fast, you lose. Sorry to sound so Ferris Bueller, but it’s true. That applies to musicians, to PR people, to producers, to photographers, to writers. To everyone who wants to be involved. I’ve wanted to see Pete Yorn for a while now, and when the day finally came, I got sick. Of course. I’m talking full-on, disgusting, can-barely-breathe, Kleenex-littering-my-bedroom-carpet sick. But I told myself, suck it up. So I went to the show, cracked open a beer, lit up a cig (I know, I’ll never learn) and listened.
The Wellspring opened the show. The duo, Dov Rosenblatt and Talia Osteen, have been on tour with Pete Yorn and Ben Kweller since Valentine’s Day. But playing at Stubb’s is even more surreal for them, they said, because only a few years ago they were in the crowd themselves, cheering on for Scissor Sisters. The Wellspring filled the place with pretty melodies and simple lyrics, songs from their first EP, such as “Not Out Loud” and “Let Me Go.” It was a short set, and even though most people were just starting to walk in and others were busying themselves with burgers and their first few beers, the crowd smiled and welcomed them, like only the warmest Austin crowds know how.
The adorably geeky Ben Kweller took the stage next, his acoustic guitar pressed up against his rainbow-striped T-shirt, his thick head of curls practically swallowing his face whole. “Home sweet home,” he shouted out, and the show began.
He opened with “Walk On Me,” a song he wrote in high school in Greenville, Texas. Like “Walk On Me,” Kweller’s songs tend to tell stories of familiarity—stories of beginnings, old friends and shitty college towns. His lyrics are personal and they’ve got the right amount of silliness. He allows us to enter a young world in which pet hedgehogs drink Jager (“Commerce, Tx”) and we can watch Planet of the Apes in peace (“How It Should Be”). Kweller then taught the audience how to overlap—an “impeccable overlap,” he told us—and sing along to “I Don’t Know Why.”
Ben Kweller played his set, going from acoustic guitar to piano and back to guitar, singing of Dallas and neon lights and his lovely wife. But more importantly, he created a space of total comfort. The crowd ate it right up, excited when he went a little more rock and roll and totally absorbed when he slowed down to a sway. Before Pete Yorn took the stage, Kweller confirmed his new album will be out in 2012 and that he’s starting his own label based in Austin. He closed with “Wasted and Ready,” a song he claims he doesn’t play often, but decided to tonight in light of what awaits the coming year.
The worst moments in a show are those moments between sets, empty spaces of eagerness and impatience. The heavy smell of beer takes over the crowd and there’s nothing to do but wait. What with my watery eyes and the fact that I’d gone through a pack and a half of Kleenex in just two hours, this in-between time hurt me more than ever. But when Pete Yorn came out, lit by the flashes of cameras in the darkness of the open space, I stopped complaining. For a while, anyway. Long enough to listen to “Panic” and “Precious Stone” and the overpowering chants of the crowd, which made him smile. As Yorn played, it felt like that first night of summer. When your shirt starts sticking to your back and the loud music hints at the freedom of summer that awaits.
Older couples danced along, cheek-to-cheek, and they seemed out of place at one moment. But then again, Yorn’s got enough of every world, enough to make you jump and enough to make you sway. As he sang along to “Future Life,” I noticed a little girl, around 11 years old, wearing a blue Ben Kweller hoodie and singing along to Yorn’s lyrics. And as I moved through the crowd I bumped into a bald man with a goatee big enough to beat Hulk Hogan to a pulp, wearing a “Lebowski Achievers” tee and smiling as he listened. It’s surprising, how they all came together. Pete Yorn wouldn’t be my first choice as a musician who brings so many different people together, but you can expect anything. Especially on a warm night of music in Austin, Texas.
(Pete Yorn performed at Stubb’s in Austin, Texas on April 16, 2011)