Recap: Pete Donnelly’s Free At Noon performance at World Cafe Live

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Photo by Melody Chiang

It’s hard to imagine what the Philadelphia pop scene would sound like without Pete Donnelly. Donnelly plays bass for NRBQ, writes and plays for The Figgs, and frequently produces local Philadelphia artists such as G. Love And Special Sauce. Now, after over 10 years of staying (for the most part) out of the spotlight, Donnelly has recorded a solo album, When You Come Home. Both the album and his live performance capture the ease and confidence that Donnelly brings to the genre. His lyrics are simple and classic, with lines like “your legs crossed, touching mine/ something simple never felt so fine.” His compositions are clean and feature just enough saxophone to jazz them up without diluting the pop.

Yet, When You Come Home can sound, at times, a bit formulaic. After the first 10 or so tracks, the love songs begin to shift from classic to cliché. Even some of the older material Donnelly played today—songs that were originally written for The Figgs and NRBQ—fit into his theme. His topics include, but are not limited to, the moment when you realize that you love someone (“Something Happened”), the frustration of wanting to be in the same place as your lover (“I Won’t Go to Miami”), the desire to fall in love (“I’m Satisfied”), and the joy of simply being in love (“When You Come Home”). When You Come Home is the kind of album that would make a good Valentine’s Day present (there’s a track for every kind of relationship), but doesn’t stand out as particularly ground-breaking or even heartfelt. To be fair, pop is rarely a purveyor raw, intense emotion, and Donnelly doesn’t pretend that his is.

But then, out of nowhere, there’s “Far Away Angel,” a song that Donnelly wrote for his 14-year-old daughter. It’s hardly surprising that Donnelly can do the hapless, hopeless romantic bit well, but “Far Away Angel,” was an unexpectedly tender and genuine moment in the set, as it is on the album. Tucked toward the end of the track list and saved for the end of his Free At Noon performance, “Far Away Angel” deals in an intense and unrelenting love that Donnelly understands—the love that a father has for his daughter. He sings about his darkest moments and the courage that his daughter gives him in those times. “Far Away Angel” is Donnelly, the writer, the musician and the producer, at his best. During an instrumental break in the song, Donnelly subtly built up the bridge, picking away at a persistent, repetitive guitar hook against graceful, drawn out notes from the saxophone. Even his voice took on a different quality of intensity. In that moment, Donnelly reminded us all that while he can craft a pop album, as we’ve come to expect him to, he can also create serious art.  –Naomi Shavin

Set List:

1. The Only One
2. Something Happened
3. I Won’t Go To Miami
4. I’m Satisfied
5. Can’t Talk At All
6. Break Through Silence
7. Far Away Angel
8. When You Come Home

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  • Sal C

    Naomi – Wow, gotta say I hate your use of ‘pop’ of some sort of pejorative in that last sentence. And serious art is only possible in the presence of raw, intense emotion?  I’m not buying it.  There’s a lot of art to be found in the simple pleasures of a well constructed and executed pop song and Pete Donnelly has got ‘em in spades

  • poprocks

    10 classic love songs on a 13 song cd! That’s a good thing, right?

  • Bundyr3

    congrats pete!

  • poprocks

    By the way, I agree that Far away angel is a great song but i just listened to the record again this morning and there are more than just love songs. what about Careful (one of my favorites), break through silence, back door, saratoga? these aren’t love songs and what’s wrong with love songs? I agree that this record would make a great gift for valentines, presidents day, earth day…