Three is not the number of the Divine because any religion says so, because Pythagoras postulated its perfection, or even because fairytales have painted that numeral into such fluorescence across the string-lit forests of so many childhood stories. Three is the number of ordered time – as in past/present/future or birth/life/death – the figure of primary colors, the digit of bones in the human ear, the count of witches in Macbeth, the amount of sheets to the wind we sometimes try to stay, and the numeric insignia of all things Jack White/Third Man Records. It is also the integer of Pete Yorn’s shadowcast Nightcrawler, the third in a thoughtful trilogy depicting the revels and revelations of a single deciduous day. On Sunday, August 29th, anyone who wished to relive the dusky parts of that day with Mr. Yorn could do so as he performed a 15th-anniversary livestream of the entire record from his home in the California desert.
Any chance you get to accept an invitation, digital or otherwise, into Pete Yorn’s day, dreams, home, or head, you should take it. This un-fjordable rule magnifies exponentially when the invitation entails Yorn engaged in the systematic breaking of one of his own rules – namely, in this case, that he would never do this record as a live performance. Because of his supernatural levels of natural cool, everything Pete Yorn has ever done feels like an after-hours album – like a secret and spontaneous party that you feel accidentally fortunate to have stumbled into and allowed to stay at. Nightcrawler, the only album that he actually intended to be an eventide event, is a dense record about a dark, drink-soaked time that Yorn has stated he only felt comfortable revisiting in an atmosphere wherein he was totally alone. The only other time Yorn has performed Nightcrawler live was on the occasion of a single show he played at a Reno honkytonk with his then-touring band, Minibar.
Starting with musicforthemorningafter in 2001, Pete Yorn showed the world that one could, had one the moxie and the mind, turn constitutional shyness into an altar piece. Following that debut coup with the untellable soul-cytometry that was Day I Forgot in 2003, Yorn has conscientiously put his shoulder to the wheel of searching songcraft ever since, making relationships into artscapes à la John and Yoko, applying a Thracian way of warfare with his own bullshit, and doing it all on his own. If Pete Yorn has twin gods, they are Pensiveness and Probity.
Sharing a narrative and symbolic structure with literary edifices like Ulysses by James Joyce, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, Saturday by Ian McEwan, and After Dark by Haruki Murakami – all of which likewise take place over the course of a single 24-hour period – can’t be cinch work. Yet Nightcrawler may draw origins from the underbelly where only the risk calculus is raised, but nothing about this record is without a highly sophisticated kind of thought-elevation and it takes its space next to the twilight stories in the aforementioned timeless tomes as effortlessly as a third drink. She is an easy little witching hour ship for sure, is Nightcrawler, but she is never a sure thing.
Recorded mostly in Venice, California, Nightcrawler imbibed none of its birthing beach’s sun-dappled serenity or jacaranda blossoms, but certainly drank in at least the lizard king’s share of the nearby mural of Jim Morrison that Yorn has said presided over many of his late-night rambles, mental and physical, during this time. Describing this album’s placement in the morning-day-night trilogy, Yorn emphasized that Nightcrawler embodies the place and time in one’s life where, “The curtain has been pulled back and you’ve kind of grown up a little bit, and you see some of the realities of the world that maybe you were sheltered from as a younger person.”
To the jubilation of all ears present, Yorn opened the stream with a song called “Can’t Hear Anyone”, which he described as his favorite song that he deeply regretted not formally placing on Nightcrawler, though the tune did appear on Nightcrawler’s atramentous expanded edition. “Vampyre”, originally written at his own father’s desk – the last song Yorn wrote in the house he grew up in before it was sold – was and remains the only way to open a record set in a palette of black kajal and kohl. The title draws inspiration from a 1932 horror film entitled Vampyr, directed by Carl Dreyer, and admired by Yorn. Produced by Michael Beinhorn, “Vampyre” allows the honesty of Yorn’s voice to serve as the sonic “familiar” that draws you into the meteoric uncertainty of the album’s theme and setting.
“For Us”, which Yorn shared he believed he had, “Written for someone else but later realized was likely about myself,” originally featured Dave Grohl on drums and continues to exhibit Yorn’s introspective genius in the fullest manner. Let it be synchronously shouted from every treetop: Pete Yorn does not know how to write lyrics that are not laser-incisive about human relationships and/or the general pity of being us. But this song and these lyrics: “I’ve seen you fall between /Everywhere we go / They want to love you, baby / More than you know” – sung the way he sings them? Bon chance on any shot you take trying to ever be the same after the first time you hear it. This is especially unavoidable in a context such as this livestream wherein Yorn can be a different kind of master of his domain, and his selkie-like wee daughter is wandering innocently by in the backdrop.
“Undercover”, which originally appeared on the soundtrack for Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, was written in New Zealand and carries a certain sparkle for that. For all his riffs on how the Kiwis’ usage of “car park” instead of “parking lot” are priceless explanations of the rectory of serendipity that is lyrical inspiration, there is never any escaping the purposeful yearning of lines like, “Drawing circles in your concrete / I will know your every move.” Earthbound and electrifying, always – even more so when Yorn dedicated it to Charlie Watts, which he did.
Yorn revealed in this performance that Nightcrawler was the first album that the now-ubiquitous Shawn Everett ever produced. For those who followed Yorn during the touring of this record, you might have caught a glimpse of Everett, as he traveled around video-recording all of the artist’s in-store appearances back in those days. Yorn credited Everett’s prowess on Pro Tools as the thermal wind driving the dream-it-up freedom of “Policies”, which he played with all of the stainlessness of a first-time open mic volunteer.
Nightcrawler as an entity unto itself moves very much like a black-and-white movie. Movies are the one art we more often than not absorb at night. Thus, fascinatingly, another film was acknowledged by Yorn as the inspiration for the, “So what you gonna do / When everybody loves you?” section of “Same Thing”, for which he switched to the cathedral rings of an acoustic twelve-string. The film in question was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Yorn elucidated that the tune talks from the idea that the people we smash our heads against the most are generally those that want the nearest things to our own desires, despite the stultifying static and the mountains of misunderstanding.
Other delicious divulgements included that “Alive” not only contains one of the artist’s favorite lines – “Do not tell your father the thoughts you’ve been thinking / They’ll burn him too long / After all, it’s the dream that holds up the sun” – but also lifts a bit of notion for its chord progression from the deathless “Pretty In Pink”, and that “Broken Bottle” was Yorn wanting to write a song like Lou Reed – whom, it must be said, would be the most quintessential midnight rider of a symbolic companion any dead-of-night wanderer could aspire to.
“How Do You Go On?” was composed in response to the magnanimity of Yorn’s grandfather, “Pop,” who lived to a furbished 104 years of age and gave the stirring advice to just “carry on and be positive” when an inquisitive Yorn earlier asked him how to survive outliving everyone you ever loved. Yorn plays every instrument on this track himself, and it exists as both an interceptive sleeper and among the artist’s personal favorites of all time.
Ad-libbing a hilarious “did that!!” to the opening lyric about living alone in the desert in his cover of Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation”, and dedicating “Ice Age” to those currently struggling with the horrors of Hurricane Ida, Pete Yorn did what he is best at doing throughout the duration of this livestream: yinning and yanging his way to the nearest proximity of whatever truth is available to we fallible human figurers. Yorn’s ode to one of the finest of those spiritual vagabonds – “Bandstand in the Sky”, which he wrote in the space of roughly five minutes for the immortal Jeff Buckley on the same day that Buckley drowned in the Mississippi – was presented in what Yorn called “THE” version of the three that exist for the diaphanous dirge.
Perhaps partially in reaction to the trilogy of tragedies looming over this performance – the double loss of Ed Asner and Lee “Scratch” Perry on the same day as the show, coupled with the incurable loss of Charlie Watts earlier in the week – and all this against the mise en scène of the ongoing pandemic and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida, Yorn refused to allow the night to end on a note that the original track sequencing of Nightcrawler would approve of. As the Nightcrawler era was a particularly material-thronged one for Yorn, he had a small army of bonus songs to choose from for encores.
He chose “Don’t Mean Nothing”, which was flatteringly covered by Nancy Sinatra and disclosed to have a chorus that exactly matches the bridge of another song on Nightcrawler entitled “The Man,” as well as “The Good Advice” – which made him giggle aloud, mid-song, with a memory of recording it that he said he could not share at present, ostensibly for its not-suitable-for-young-ears nature. A smirk of a song!
Fifteen years on, his bleariest recorded moments now full-on teenagers, there are still no remote control moments with Pete Yorn, blessedly. At 47, he is still the “Cadillac boy” of his own description in “Maybe I’m Right”, and he teaches you to wear your heart big. Then, as now, his most exceptional legacy is a rare willingness to complicate his relationship to anything by daring to attempt full understanding of said thing, even at the price of his own ego. He is still productively stubborn. There continues to be a muscularity in his writing that has no rivals, now or then.
Nightcrawler, even when it was brand-new in 2006, was a coronation as much as it was anything else. It was Yorn’s third album for Columbia Records and the finishing ruby completing his immensely heavy creative crown. Though it is never without stings and scratches when one returns, even momentarily, to a hard signal that is no longer being inhabited, Pete Yorn revisiting that down-trending occasion any enlightened person has had, wherein the betrayal we all get from our own innocence throws a non-compos mentis moment over our every movement, whilst he is actively living the inversion of that kind of upheaval puts the equivalent of a modern epilogue on a postmodern poem.
Nightcrawler needed to be played live again for all the same reasons it needed to be written and recorded in the first place. When fighting the monsters in your own pocket, it is good to take out and use the flashlight you’ve likely forgotten that you have in your other pocket. Nightcrawler reminds you not to feel bad if you forget the existence of that flashlight the first or even the second time you need to remember it. Nightcrawler reminds you that the third time is, indeed, the charm.