Joe Pernice / John Crooke – Cleere’s Theatre (Kilkenny, Ireland)
Depending on your outlook, the small theatre behind John Cleere’s pub is half full or half empty for tonight’s show. However, in a venue this snug, there are no wide open spaces in the crowd to dampen the atmosphere. In fact, it’s the perfect size for a guy with an acoustic guitar and a few songs to sing.
John Crooke, and the band he sings with, Jolene, are pretty much unknown in these parts. In truth, people are here to see Joe Pernice, but one of the pleasures of this kind of show is that it’s always liable to kick up some new interesting act to fall for. I’ve seen singer-songwriters like Crooke get lost in bigger venues, but tonight the crowd’s attention never strays from his quiet, articulate songs.
With some unease, I had to admit to myself that his voice is quite similar to that guy from Counting Crows. Apparently, Counting Crows sell millions of albums, Jolene never will. Nobody said life was fair. “What’s the point of thinking if it only wears you out?” he asks on “All The Worry”. We get a cover of English folk singer Sandy Denny, and then with little fanfare, Joe Pernice walks up from amongst the crowd and grabs another acoustic guitar.
As he begins to sing, I start to wonder what other singer his voice could be compared to. Somebody behind me mentions Elvis Costello, but there’s still some way between the two. Costello’s younger American nephew, perhaps. “I’m a ghost, I fade with the light,” he sings on the strangely titled “Bumlick”, a song about seedy proceedings under a bridge.
Crooke provides backing vocals on songs such as “Nobody’s Watching” and “Hundred Dollar Pocket”, both from the recently released Chappaquiddick Skyline album, and sings the lead vocal on the Pernice Brothers’ “Crestfallen”. It could be argued that the Pernice Brothers’ 1998 album Overcome By Happiness was over-laden with production, but tonight, stripped down to just two guitars and two voices, songs such as that album’s title tune come alive.
The most popular material Pernice has been involved with remains the songs he recorded in the mid-’90s with the Scud Mountain Boys, in particular the Massachusetts album. “Lift Me Up” and “Cigarette Sandwich”, both from that disc, received the loudest welcomes of the evening. Pernice and Crooke try to leave the stage, but when you play this well, you don’t get out of town so easy. For an encore, we get an uplifting version of “Please Mister Please”.
“I have two degrees” Pernice tells us, smiling, “and I’m still touring around like a bum,” implying that he might be better at something else. Personally, I doubt it.