Stake a place near the front of the stage at the Gypsy Tea Room tonight to see a guy trying hard to define himself playing music that works against that. A self-styled Paul Westerberg type, young media darling Pete Yorn's debut album, musicforthemorningafter (cute, huh?), presents a ruggedly handsome guy with a ruggedly handsome voice rifling through his record collection for a personality he can call his own. It's actually a fascinating search: Lead single "Life on a Chain" can't decide whether to be Tom Petty or New Order, the scruffy, catchy bash and pop of its verses (mostly he-said/she-said stuff, but originally so) rubbing up against the kind of slippery bass line Peter Hook invented in the bridge. (Yorn's no idiot savant: "I was trying to make a record," he admits in the label bio, "that captured everything I liked about Americana roots rock and meld it with everything I love about Britpop.") The song starts out all tinny and scratchy, as if played on one of the dustier platters in Yorn's collection, but it's just one of the little stunts producer Brad Wood pulls all over the album.
Wood's the guy who introduced Liz Phair to all of us, and here he builds the same sort of kitchen-sink environment he brought to Exile in Guyville, making Yorn's pretty-samey stuff intermittently shuffle like Dylan, surge like Superchunk and throb like Joy Division, of all things. Cool stuff, somewhere between a boy version of Phair and a boy version of Sheryl Crow (which, I guess, is a boy version of Paula Cole, only way better). Still, Yorn kind of gets lost in the middle of it all, a Nick Hornby loser sitting on stacks of vinyl wondering how everything got so fucked up. But he isn't a loser (not a total one, anyway), and seeing him in the ruggedly handsome flesh, free of his record's promo sheen and Rolling Stone's ceaseless fawning, should show off a talented new songwriter eager to show you what he's made of.
On the other hand, seeing Jimmy Gnecco, the ruggedly handsome guy who, for all practical purposes, is Ours, might just make you feel sorry for him. The way, way, way over-the-top art-metal tunes on Ours' debut, Distorted Lullabies, manage to make a dent or two in spite of their absolute lack of restraint (assuming you've never heard Jeff Buckley or Soundgarden or Led Zeppelin). But onstage Gnecco gets swallowed by his own proclivities for black eyeliner and leather pants and guitar players who look like pro wrestlers. It's all a bit The Crow, and Gnecco hasn't yet figured out how to utilize the maelstrom as a communicative device as he has on disc. Help him tonight harness the fragility at the center of raw power.