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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Fair
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The Pernice Brothers gorgeously focus on the mundane
The Pernice Brothers play the High Noon Saloon on Friday, Nov. 10.
Credit:Kiki Schueler

Joe Pernice has the look of a history professor on his day off, white T shirt, graying beard, small, scholarly glasses, but once he and his band took the stage at the High Noon Saloon Friday night it was obvious he wasn't going to lecture us about ancient civilizations. Instead, what he had to tell us focused on the more mundane -- love, life, the usual song stuff made extraordinary by his intelligent, literate lyrics and gorgeous, ethereal voice. The new Live a Little extends his hitting streak of sophisticated, melancholic records to an impressive five.

Even though there aren't any actual siblings represented, Pernice has obviously bonded with his band. Brit James Walbourne's extraordinary guitar playing on "Flaming Wreck" had Pernice smiling and shaking his head in awe. Though it may have been Walbourne's brief saxophone solo on the lovely "PCH One" that was the most memorable. Hyperkinetic and ridiculously entertaining, drummer Patrick Berkery was mesmerizing throughout the twenty-song set. Forgoing sticks, he opened the everyday love affair "Microscopic View" using his hands instead.

After the breakup of the Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice left most of his alt country leanings behind. Thankfully not all of them. His irresistible cover of Olivia Newton John's jukebox weeper "Please Mr. Please," part of their three-song encore, was absolutely inspired'made even more so by his refusal to change the gender, which finds him longing to be "the richest girl in Nashville." Brilliant.

Over the years, the Pernice Brothers have introduced their fans to many artists for the first time. The National, the Long Winters, and Clem Snide have all joined them on the road in the past. So it was a bit of a surprise when tonight's tour mate was someone who had just passed through town. Part circus side show, part Decemberists style theater, Elvis Perkins (son of actor Anthony) and his untamed band were in town with Okkervil River just last month. Since their debut CD Ash Wednesday doesn't even come out officially till 2007, it is probably safe to say they'll pass this way again, picking up fans as they go.

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