words & photos by Benjamin Lozovsky
Conor Oberst and crew might have co-opted the Monsters of Folk moniker, but they've only grown to their current size by standing on the shoulders of even larger mythical beings. Two more likely candidates for that title, Bert Jansch and Neil Young, graced the Bell House Wednesday night. The two didn't perform together, but the long-standing connection between the six-string
English Scottish troubadour and the American Canadian highwayman was noticeably present through their music.
Young made the surprise guest appearance as part of his wife Pegi's backing band, the opening act, and kept to the shadows most of the night. Bathed in dark crimson light, he filled in his wife's rollicking, twangy sound with subdued yet accented guitar licks, that unmistakable gritty rhythm style, and on one occasion harmonica. Even in just a supporting role, his focus was impenetrable. When Neil Young raises his guitar neck and dons that irascible stare, it commands attention like a force of nature. Pegi finished off her set with a version of Neil outtake "Doghouse," graciously letting her man share the spotlight as he sang backup and finally splayed out a solo.
But the highlight of the show was Jansch; his complex acoustic ruminations sprang to life like a Celtic fable, and his vocals, softer with age, tranquilly voiced stories that were equally anguished and joyous. For the most part Jansch's newer work blended seamlessly with his old material as one singular vision. The wistful classic "Rosemary Lane" from his eponymous 1971 album never felt out of touch with more recent songs like "My Donald," from 2001's Crimson Moon. That song was about his departed friend, the "hardest man in Scotland" who was both a failed lumberjack and a real whaler. As he told the stories behind his numbers in between songs, he sounded like Michael Caine with a guitar; understated, satirical, and spotlessly adorable. One song he wrote after a series of gigs with maligned rock star Pete Doherty. With deadpan wit, he noted, "I don't think he's allowed in your country."
More pictures from the Bell House show below...
Pegi Young & Neil Young