With the simple pop song all but a distant memory in most quarters, it’s always a pleasure to hear and see a proponent of this dying art. Pete Droge is a master. Dressed in everyday garb and employing no unnecessary showmanship, the Epic/57 recording artist’s stage demeanor is as straightforward as his music.
A variation on the Petty/ Westerberg mid-tempo jangle has been his stock in trade, with the small rock hit “If You Don’t Love Me, I’m Gonna Kill Myself” as his best-known number. But his new material is showing a radical turn away from the quasi-country leanings betrayed earlier.
Kicking off his show with the title track from his new disc, “Spacey and Shakin,” Droge and band are dipping deep into the well of poppy psychedelia. With its twisting, modal guitar line prominent, as well as its droning melody distinctly unrootsy, Droge is expanding his palette nicely without ceding any ground in the hooks department. Most of the brief set was material from the new disc, including the modified shuffle “Motorkid” and the presumed single “Eyes on the Ceiling.”
Set closer, “Please the Ghost,” broke into a lengthy jam over one chord, the hallmark of psych freakouts that date all the way back to the genre’s granddaddy, Paul Butterfield’s “East-West.” But unlike the auteur of that hoary ’60s FM masterpiece, Droge and band are not improvisers. When they keep it short and sweet, even the head music works best. Droge is still deeply rooted in the tradition of storytelling songwriters, and the foray into noisy swirl gives his new music an interesting set of colors, but is hardly the meat of the matter.