Even dedicated fans might not have recognized Joe Pernice at Jammin' Java on Thursday night. His longtime close-cropped-and-bespectacled look has given way to shaggy hair and a salt-and-pepper beard that made him look like a college professor cutting loose on open mike night. And though Pernice's latest batch of lyrics is as bookishly evocative as ever, it was the buzz of his ambrosial vocals that lifted the Pernice Brothers' set into the pop-song stratosphere.
Beginning with a trio of songs from "Discover a Lovelier You," their splendid fifth album, the show quickly became a veritable Pernice primer, balancing downcast ruminations ("Shoes and Clothes") and crisp, careering guitar pop ("Working Girls," "Clear Spot"). In a backing quartet that included no actual Pernices, the guitars of Peyton Pinkerton and James Walbourne stood out, from a sprinkling of British Invasion figures on "Saddest Quo" to a spray of slide over "Dumb It Down."
As polished as the band sounded, a surprising solo encore from Pernice stole the show. He reached back for "Bum Leg" and "Prince Valium," a pair of songs from his doleful solo effort "Big Tobacco," then gorgeously rendered a pair of songs -- "Silo" and one whose title is unfit for a family newspaper -- from his days fronting the slow-motion country Scud Mountain Boys. And even though the Pernice Brothers never got to the cover of "Doll on a Music Box" (from the soundtrack of the film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") that has reportedly been a highlight of this tour, it was a truly scrumptious show nonetheless.
-- Patrick Foster