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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Tom Petty

by Meredith Tanner

Pete Droge freely admits that Tom Petty was a big influence on his style. It's a good thing, too, because otherwise I might have mistaken Pete Droge and the Sinners for a Tom Petty tribute band. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you; I have what amounts to a fetish for twangy guitars and skinny, nasal-sounding southern boys. I can't help it; it must be something in the water where I grew up.

Pete Droge and the Sinners did an extremely mellow set at the Paradise Lounge in late August. The band was very tight -- tighter than the Heartbreakers have ever been, in any case -- and the lead guitarist in particular was in rare form. Pete Droge, presiding, bore a strong resemblance to an awkward, laconic scarecrow. He's one of the skinniest people I've ever seen moving under his own power; maybe if you all run out and buy his CDs immediately he'll make enough money to put some meat on his all-too-visible bones.

Peter Stroud, the lead guitarist, and Pete Droge traded leads during "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself)", retitled for the occasion "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Tear Up This Pillow And Shove It Down Your Throat)". (It has a certain something, I think, despite the blatant lack of scansion.) They performed a few other songs from the first CD (on which the Sinners did not appear), all of which were much better live than on the recording.

Unfortunately, the material they did from the second CD scarcely varied from the recorded versions. (I suspect they hadn't been out of the studio long; both CDs were released this year.) Nonetheless, it was a good, solid show. The Sinners aren't a high energy band -- you won't see the audience bursting spontaneously into interpretive dance, and had Pete Droge played Altamont, tragedy might have been averted -- but they're well worth seeing.

There were actually four acts booked for the Paradise's two stages that evening, the second of which was so unmemorable that I've entirely forgotten their name. The first act to go on was a local singer/songwriter who goes by the name Warren. I feel compelled to mention that I think a name change might enhance his prospects. "Warren" just doesn't have the same eclat as, say, "Sting," "Cher," or "Madonna." It puts one rather in mind of the kind of skinny, bespectacled, pocket-protector-wearing geek who still has an Atari ST at home and can identify any episode of Star Trek within the first two seconds -- but I digress.

Name-calling aside, Warren is a reasonably competent singer and guitarist, and quite a good songwriter. Well, mostly quite a good songwriter. I have to admit that I was entirely mystified by one touching ballad of a couple's breakup, entitled "Goodbye, Magic Robot." I'm not at all sure how the robot got involved. I suppose I may have misheard the lyrics, but I am so charmed by the Magic Robot that I refuse to consider the possibility.

I am sorry to confess that I didn't stick around for the closing act, Elvis Herselvis, who is -- you guessed it -- the Bay Area's own female Elvis impersonator. Really, though, just hearing the name is enough; like a Weekly World News headline, I can imagine the rest. Actually witnessing the spectacle would be almost superfluous. Besides, there's only so much entertainment a person can stand in one evening.

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