Pernice Brothers
Local 506, Chapel Hill
with Elvis Perkins
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 9:15 p.m.
Tickets: $10

“Grudge F***,” a hungover piano ballad to a lost girlfriend, was an instant classic on the Scud Mountain Boys’ 1996 album Massachusetts. Bleak, quiet and bitterly funny, Massachusetts was an alt-country masterpiece. The songs seeped into the brain and heart via a steady pedal-steel drip and frontman Joe Pernice’s plaintive, sweetly cracked voice.

But the alt-country trappings of “Grudge F***” were suspicious: They hid a gorgeous melody and deceptively complex chords and key changes. So it was no shock when, after Massachusetts, Pernice grounded the Scuds, shuffled off the alt-country coil, and formed a pop band called the Pernice Brothers, who have worn the influence of Badfinger, Nick Drake, AM radio in the ’70s and college radio in the ’80s ever since. (Pernice even published Meat Is Murder, a novella inspired by the Smiths album.) Orchestral arrangements and cultured studio textures now adorn his literate, yearning, yet austere songs.

To drive home the point Pernice has been making for a decade, that ’96 classic “Grudge F***” was rerecorded a decade later for the Pernice Brothers’ new disc, Live a Little, their fifth album. Now, the song is backed by drums, lush strings and vocal harmonies. Live a Little‘s other tracksmelodic and dense with Elvis Costello-like language that sometimes leaves Pernice almost breathlessare always punctuated by his baleful wit (“She believes what doesn’t kill her/ Only takes more time to kill her”) and anchored in his stoic dolor. And when he repeats “I’d never given up on you” to another lost lover during the fade of the soaring “Zero Refills,” it dawns on you that all of Pernice’s romances become grudge f***s in the end. That’s why his voice sounds ecstatic and crushed at the same time.