If you’re expecting to see the kind of big full-band performance Pete Yorn has been dishing out for the bulk of the last 16 years when he stops in Santa Ana on Tuesday night, you may be in for a surprise. Rather than trying to condense an ensemble experience down to fit in the Constellation Room, Yorn is going the solo route with a more intimate and unplanned performance this time around.
“It’s just me and my guitar, so these shows are different than my typical shows with a band in that they’re a lot more freeform,” Yorn says. “The rule is that there’s no setlist, and it’s very interactive. I wanted to create this vibe that it was just like hanging out with me in my living room, and that’s what it feels like in a strange way. There’s a lot of interaction with the crowd — I take requests — and we just kind of create the night as it goes.”
But even for a man whose career has been built around solo material (and a project with Scarlett Johansson, because you’re not going to turn down a record with Black Widow), hitting the stage entirely alone seemed pretty terrifying at first. It actually wasn’t until about three years ago that Yorn convinced himself to give it a try for a few shows, but then he fell in love with the intimate vibe so much that he’s ended up doing them on and off ever since. To this day, it can still be a little unsettling for the songwriter to not really know how the night will play out even as he gets ready to perform.
“Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking throughout the day, because sometimes I like to be organized,” Yorn says. “I do get organized in the sense that I know a lot of songs, so I’m prepared to play a lot. At the same time, not knowing how the show is going to manifest every night until after is always interesting and a fun step out into the unknown. Then after it’s done, I’m like ‘Oh, we got together and created a show out of nothing’ and everyone got to steer where it went.”
One of the nice things about the solo shows is that it means Yorn can play whatever he likes however he likes. As long as the crowd is accepting of it, the songwriter doesn’t have to focus on his hits or his latest album (last year’s Arranging Time). He can literally bust out a song he hasn’t played in decades or put a modern improvisational twist on a fan favorite. But that freedom comes with a little bit more pressure than Yorn was originally accustomed to — even if he’s always been the center of attention of his own music.
“In some ways, it feels like there’s more weight on your shoulders,” Yorn says. “When the band’s up there with you, sometimes you can hide in the shadows. At the same time, I like the spontaneity of it and that I can go anywhere I want. Even though I have a band that knows a lot of songs, there is something limiting about it where I can’t just break into some song that I used to play when I was 15 years old. It kind of opens up to a lot of different possibilities.”
Of course, Yorn has a pretty sizable catalog of material to choose from when he plays on his own even without going back to the tracks he wrote as a teenager. While he’s excited to perform cuts off of Arranging Time now that his fans have been able to live with the material for a little while, there’s a certain connection with some of the older material that often fuels the more request-based shows. Everyone has a favorite musicforthemorningafter or Day I Forgot track, even if the meaning behind them has changed over the last decade or so.
“The cool thing about older songs is when you can pull out a song that you were feeling so many years ago and have it still mean something for you when you go to play it,” Yorn says. “I can’t say that with every song, but there are a lot of them that I still really enjoy. I’ve grown and have seen different perspectives in my life, and I think the meanings also shift to accommodate that as well. I also love seeing when there’s an old song that really means a lot to a fan and being able to share that with them in a live set.”
Pete Yorn is performing at the Constellation Room at 9 p.m. on May 9. Tickets cost $35 and are available through the venue’s website.