It is impossible to write heart-breaking pop songs like Joe Pernice and not be skilled in the art of self-deprecation. “Nobody’s Listening/Nobody’s Watching” is a wicked clever title for the Massachusetts band’s first ever live CD/DVD package.
“NL/NW” is a charming live album. The sound is decidedly lo-fi with very little of the sheen and gloss most major-label studio live albums are assisted or afflicted by. The album was recorded in a small club in New York and it is refreshing to hear a live album that actually sounds like one, warts and all.
It is also jarring to hear these 12 songs in a live setting. It is jarring because on record these songs are elegant and smooth and pretty – Joe Pernice’s voice in particular. And Pernice’s voice is most affected by the live setting. For starters, it is not always easy to hear his voice because the guitars are mixed loud and right up front. This gives the songs more of a garage rock vibe than their poppier studio incarnations. It is interesting to hear them in that light and to hear the other members of the band get their chance to really shine.
The downside, surprisingly, is also Pernice’s vocals. It is a surprise because Pernice has one of the loveliest voices on planet earth and by no means does he sound bad on this record. He is note perfect with nearly every note of every song throughout the performance. But the hushed whispers and delicateness that characterizes most of Pernice’s best vocal moments in the studio are missing in concert. He just does not sound like himself (or at least not the way we are used to hearing him).
This is a perfectly solid album and the included DVD is very good (It includes the video for “Baby in Two” which is the best song from the best album of 2003, Yours, Mine, & Ours”. But this is not the place for the uninitiated to acquaint themselves with the best living singer/songwriter of this generation.