NEW YORK, NY—It was a meeting of guitar slingers at the Bellhouse in Brooklyn. One a somber man of sardonic wit, a Scotsman schooled at the ale stained pubs of northern Britain. The other one, a Canadian born-American transplant troubadour, rock ‘n’ roll gonzo and folkie maverick playing in support of his old lady, Pegi Young, on her sophomore tour and new record, Foul Deeds, that’s a throwback to the days when the stone-eyed gents from Laurel Canyon ruled the airwaves.
Hers was a blend of early ‘70s Ronstadt and Lucinda Williams, powered by one of the finest backup bands in the land. Bassist Rick Rosas, drummer Phil Jones and keyboardist Spooner Oldham combined a century’s-worth of musicianship into a timeless flow of organic rock that her husband, the godfather of grunge, Neil Young, poked his grumbling distortion through. Trying ever so deliberately to fade into backdrop onstage in low light, stage left, Neil still commanded a presence as he powered the backup bands meandering folk rock through hoops of countrified fuzz.
Young was on the down low the entire set as he let his blond-haired wife take over. A little shaky at first they slowly morphed into a well-oiled jukebox of riffs, hooks and Pegi’s sweet vocals that took on sorrow and loss. Guitarist Kelvin Holly added a rockabilly counter to Neil’s minimalistic rumble that kept the train-a-rolling to the rhythm sections steady four-to-the-floor. Jones and Rosas, who has been Neil’s steady bassman for the past decade, kept the guitarists in check as keyboardist Oldham, who played on Neil’s 1992 gem Harvest Moon, twinkled the keys.
Opening with “Pleasing To Me,” from her new one, the band played it like the house band at a honky tonk for their hour-plus set. Ending with “Doghouse,” an unreleased song that goes back to Young’s 1988 tour with the Bluenotes, Neil laced into some boisterous harmonica then chimed in on a few barks on the chorus’s letting his hair down on his wife’s night out with the boys.
Bert Jansch’s set showcased his stellar chops as a fingerpicking guru, taking on licks steeped in British folk. His was a brooding ode of melancholic dirges to Young’s hazy optimism. From “Black Water Slide” to “Rosemary Lanes,” Jansch evoked the dreariness of his damp homeland that went down smoky, like a scotch whisky.
Between songs he bantered on about how the songs pay homage to their authors, most of whom no longer play planet earth. He introduced “Ducking and Diving,” as a song written about troubled rocker Pete Doherty, who he did some gigs with a few years back, adding, “When you get where you’re going, you want to be someplace else.”
The woody décor, hanging chandeliers, tall ceilings and stellar draft beer menu gave the venue a bohemian barnyard vibe that both acts played off perfectly, one dark and plaintive, the other a cosmic, folksy shuffle.