Joe Pernice is that rare breed of modern-day power-pop icon whose appeal is such that even Pitchfork-lurking indie types can cozy up to what he does. And I'm not sure exactly why that is. But it's certainly not for a lack of accessible hooks.
On Live a Little, his latest Pernice Brothers record, the songs are as in-your-face catchy as Fountains of Wayne, if less inclined to rock. They're more suggestive of the brainy loser in the back of class whom no one ever noticed (besides the brainy wise-ass cracking everybody up with how clever he was). Pernice is "crimson not clover-leafed," "stuck in dumb amazement like a dog who's told to levitate."
He's also really good at being sad, which suits his rather gentlemanly take on power-pop, steeped in the sleepier side of The Beatles, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star ballads and, at times, a touch of Squeeze. A melancholy cover of his old alt-country band Scud Mountain Boys milks every ounce of pathos from the scene where he cold-calls an ex to tell her, "All my friends have left me here. You were the only one who knew me."
And then there's "Lightheaded," in which he wistfully considers the drink ring on a "Year in Pictures" magazine while wondering why he doesn't recognize "the times it says are mine." But that's the thing: You wouldn't want Pernice to recognize these times as his. He needs to operate outside them.
Pernice Brothers 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4. Club Café, 56-58 S.12th St., South Side. $12 ($14 day of show). 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com