Joe Pernice/Kate Boothman; September 11, 2009; Schubas
Joe Pernice does not look like a musician. He looks like a college professor, a butcher, a bus driver, or a theoretical physicist, but certainly not a musician. That is, until he opens his mouth to sing and the world stops. Quite simply, I do not think I have ever heard a more beautiful voice. Whether under the name the Pernice Brothers, Chappaquiddick Skyline, or simply Joe Pernice, all his releases are heartbreakingly gorgeous records. It never seems possible that he will, or can, sound like that live, but every time he defies expectations. Inevitably during a Pernice Brothers show he will do a solo song, usually the affecting “Bum Leg” and usually for the encore, and I always wish I could see an entire set of just him. I finally got my wish.
The impetus behind this tour was that Pernice wrote a book, or more correctly, another book. He has previously released a book of poems Two Blind Pigeons and a novella for the 33 1/3 series on the Smiths’ Meat is Murder. His most recent publication It Feels So Good When I Stop is a full length novel and a partner disc which features him covering many of the songs he talks about in the book was released concurrently. Tonight’s show was part book reading, part concert. I read Meat is Murder, and wasn’t particularly impressed, the plot was thin and the prose seldom better than average. Given that, I wasn’t planning to buy the book, especially because they weren’t supposed to be bringing any along. Despite the fact that Joyce, Ashmont Media’s verbose proprietor, swore in many an e-mail that they were too heavy there was a stack at the merch table. Still, I wouldn’t have bought one if it hadn’t been for the fact that the sections he read convinced me to buy it.
It isn’t like he’s Jon Langford or Peter Mulvey, both of whom could sell me anything with their dulcet tones. Contrary to his singing voice, Pernice has a very ordinary speaking voice, muddied by a thick Massachusetts accent. So it must have been the story. The two sections he read seemed more believable than I remembered his writing being, and the section involving Lou Barlow was laugh-out-loud funny, even if it did seem a little name-droppy. The songs he chose to sing first were those from the book, Sammy John’s perverse “Chevy Van” and the hooky Steve Wynn song “Tell Me When It’s Over.” He apologized to his manager for recording a Disney song before playing the lighthearted “Chim Cheree.” Del Shannon’s “I Go to Pieces” may have been the best of the covers, though I’d been hoping for Tom T Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” When moved on to his songs, Pernice Brothers’ classics like “How Can I Compare,” “Amazing Glow,” and of course “Bum Leg,” each one was even more stunning than the one before.
Even though he recorded one of his songs, he had never met Steve Wynn. Coincidentally enough Steve Wynn was in town that night with the Baseball Project, and Pernice said they had been trailing each other across the country. He did make it over to the show later that night, handing Wynn a book after watching part of the set. I wonder if he left thinking, “I certainly do his song better,” the same way I did