THE PERNICE BROTHERS/AMY ALLISON Academy 3, Manchester 13 August 2003

The Academy 3 is the room at the top of the Manchester University Students Union building that used to be known as The Hop And Grape in my young day, and The Pernice Brothers are a Boston band that can trace their roots back to main member Joe Pernice's former outfit Scud Mountain Boys. (Other brother Bob appears on the records but doesn't play the gigs, in a Brian Wilson sorta way.) Their fifth long player, "Yours, Mine And Ours", is a not unpleasant mix of late-period Teenage Fanclub jangle, sweet tunes/sour lyrics Morriseyisms and the odd New Order pastiche, although previous works have apparently been rather overcome by orchestral arrangements, to the detriment of the tunes they contain.

Arriving somewhat late at the Academy 3, I only caught the end of Amy Allison's set, but two songs were enough to convince that, despite her obvious and beguiling humility and affection for the audience her somewhat shrill singing voice might prove a serious barrier to more long-term appreciation of her contemporary acoustic folk music. A terrible injustice, of course, in a world where records featuring the fractured tones of Messrs Zimmerman and Lydon can be found in pretty much any comprehensive collection, but there it is. She'll supporting Billy Brag any day now, I would have thought, if she hasn't already.

A few random facts about The Pernice Brothers (or The Penrice Brothers, as they were rather ingloriously billed on the ticket): the interval entertainment at tonight's gig consisted of The Smiths' eponymous debut album; Joe Pernice apparently submitted a degree thesis discussing "Post-Modernism In My Last Album"; he's written a book called "Meat Is Murder". All of which should tip the balance of any potential listener's impressions towards running away screaming or embracing wholeheartedly, but I have to confess that I'm still not sure which side I'm on. Tonight The Pernice Brothers are agreeably bouncy, far more so than their recordings might lead you to expect, and Joe is an amiable frontperson. And tonight they play a large number of very pleasant compositions, among which the side-one-of-"Brotherhood"-ness of "Sometimes I Remember" (which prompts one wag to yell "Play "Blue Monday"") and "Yours, Mine And Ours" highlight "The Weakest Shade Of Blue" stand out. But still there's something not quite right about their music to my ears, almost as if I was expecting, or hoping against hope for, even, American Music Club and was served up Ben Folds Five instead.

There's no doubting their commitment, though - I can't remember the last time I experienced three encores at a concert, no matter how cynically staged the practice has become these days - and the cover of the Pretenders' "Talk Of The Town" was a nice touch. But the highlight for me was Joe alone with his acoustic guitar performing the Scud Mountain Boys' "Grudge Fuck", which seemed to tap the same level of bruised, jagged emotion that Mark Eitzel holds in reserve for his bleakest moments, a world apart from the airbrushed alt.pleasantness of much of the programme.