By Scott Roberts; photos by Sue Volkert (full gallery at the bottom of the post)
Anticipation was high for this special in-the-round performance at Eddie’s Attic by literary folk-rockers John Wesley Harding and Joe Pernice, along with novelist Rick Moody, himself also musically knowledgeable and surprisingly tuneful. The three wordsmiths took turns singing, playing, telling stories, and reading from their published (and yet-to-be published) works to a rapt, if not packed, audience of appreciative listeners.
Harding was definitely the star of the evening, being the most well-known and outgoing of the three. Looking dapper with a shock of gray hair, Harding’s obvious love of entertaining has always come across, whether he’s playing large venues or smaller clubs. The intimate setting of Eddie’s was perfect for some of the quieter material he chose to play, including opening song “Bright Phoebus,” a song originally by British folk-rock legends the Watersons, in which he was accompanied by Moody with lovely harmonies.
Pernice appeared slightly less comfortable (especially awaiting his turns) in this setting than he has when fronting his band the Pernice Brothers, but the awkwardness melted as soon as he started singing opening song “Amazing Glow,” accompanied by a humorous anecdote about playing this on The Gilmore Girls. Harding reacted with genuine surprise hearing this story, adding to the obvious spontaneity and loose vibe of the evening (along with lots of “Do you want to go next?” “No, you go ahead,” type banter).
Moody (whose best-known work is his novel The Ice Storm, the source for Ang Lee’s 1997 film), armed only with books and no instruments (other than a toy that made a cow noise on one song) and wearing a slightly odd-looking porkpie hat, went third and read a selection about his distaste for drum machines from his recent book of music essays, On Celestial Music. Pernice followed with a reading from his 2009 novel It Feels So Good When I Stop, unedited and liberally peppered with profanity despite the presence of a few youngsters in the crowd. Harding, again the standout, read an excerpt from his completed yet unpublished and untitled latest novel (which he told me after the show might end up with the name Wunderkind) about a punk band that inadvertently becomes a popular children’s act, included several hilarious musician jokes (“Son to Mother: When I grow up, I want to be a musician. Mother to son: You can’t do both, son.”).
Each took turns with more songs and readings (Harding: the clever “There’s a Starbucks Where the Starbucks Used to Be” from his latest CD, The Sound of His Own Voice; Pernice: a brand new song inspired by his five-year-old son; Moody: an essay on Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”) and though this show was just one of three that this trio mounted, their evident admiration of each other’s material and the opportunity to perform in this manner made it clear that they should do this again sometime.