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Joe Pernice, Union Chapel, Islington, January 26th 2010

January 27, 2010


Freebie covermount CD Sounds Of The New West came stuck to the September 1998 issue of Uncut and can claim some credit for the growth of alt-country in the UK. It included oldies such as The Flying Burritos and Emmylou, but it also showcased newcomers (to me at least) including Will Oldham, The Silver Jews, Willard Grant Conspiracy, the late Vic Chesnutt – and the Pernice Brothers, with their song Crestfallen. I bought a stack of new CDs on the back of that one free disc, including the Pernice Brothers’ Overcome By Happiness.  

Founder member Joe Pernice has also occasionally recorded solo as well as spent much of his time writing. In 2003, his semi-autobiographical book Meat Is Murder was published and last year saw the publication of his novel It Feels So Good When I Stop.

One attraction of the Pernice Brothers for me has been the presence in the band of James Walbourne on guitar (notably on the live CD Nobody’s Watching/Nobody’s Listening), but I’ve never seen Joe live before, so it’s a new one for me.

Joe is a laidback performer, but his well-crafted songs are often intense. He’s quite a big man and funny with it too. He talks of his Italian roots (I suppose the name was originally pronounced ‘pair-knee-chay’ rather than ‘pun-eace’…), and onstage he has a range of slightly neurotic tics and twitches – a sort of cross between Antonio Carluccio and Woody Allen, if you can picture that.

He’s a good but not great guitar player and I began to wonder if he could hold an audience’s attention all evening with just voice and guitar. Wisely, he mixed things up by inviting local lad James Walbourne to join him (on guitar and piano) for three songs, including a very heartfelt version of I’m Your Puppet, which I’d heard James play just a couple of weeks ago. Joe’s new songs hold up well against the older material and the audience showed its appreciation for a fine evening.

Top tip: if you go to the Union Chapel, be sure to get there early so that: 1. You can reserve yourself some good spaces on the austere pews; 2. You can get yourself some of the delicious homemade food they serve in the bar at absurdly cheap prices. Before the gig, my friend the Noble Savage enjoyed a zingy curry while I tucked into a tasty cheese and onion quiche.

Here for your enjoyment are James and Bobby Purify singing my favourite version of I’m Your Puppet (written by the great Spooner Oldham).

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