Sixty-six year old Scottish folk singer/songwriter/guitarist Bert Jansch (it's pronounced "Yanch") is a living legend who has had a profound and lasting influence on rock musicians ranging from Neil Young, Jimmy Page and Johnny Marr, to Pete Doherty and Devendra Banhart.
Yet, he is all but unknown in America outside of a small, but quite rabid group of devotees. However, that may be changing.
Jansch, a guitarist who Neil Young once called "as great as Jimi (Hendrix) was," has been opening the shows on Young's current Twisted Road tour. And despite the reputation of some of Neil's more boisterous fans for drunkenly yelling out things like "Rawk N' F**in' Roll" during the quieter moments of his shows, audiences have not only been uncharacteristically respectful of Jansch — quite a few of them also seem to be actually getting it.
Judging by Jansch's solo acoustic performance this past Thursday night at Seattle's Triple Door, it's not hard to see why. As a guitarist, Jansch is absolutely spellbinding to watch — a fact which became even more apparent in witnessing him work his magic in the small, intimate confines of Seattle's Triple Door.
Best known in the States as a founding member of sixties/seventies British folkie cult faves The Pentangle, Jansch's music is a product of that same indigenous scene which spawned the much better known Fairport Convention and its offshoots Sandy Denny and especially the great Richard Thompson.
But at the risk of offending Thompson fanatics everywhere, Jansch's guitar work is simply in a class all its own.
Watching Jansch's amazing guitar skills up close and personal at the Triple Door on Thursday night was almost like seeing two virtuoso guitarists doing their thing at once.
In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the first few times I saw Jeff Beck play live. In the same way I once was hypnotized by all those crazy things Beck does with a whammy bar and a Strat, the combination of Jansch's full-throttle hand strumming and intricate five fingered style of picking was something I simply couldn't take my eyes off of.
As a vocalist, Jansch sings in a gruff sounding, heavily accented, deeply voiced sort of timbre. On Thursday night, the songs themselves veered from the ultra-traditional British and Scottish folk of "Rosemary Lane" and "The Old Triangle" (from his current album, The Black Swan — which the normally stingy Mojo Magazine recently afforded a rare five star rating), to darker, bluesier-based fare like "Duck In The Diamond" (a song Jansch said he wrote after spending a few nights out with notorious lunatic Pete Doherty).
Opening up for Jansch was Pegi Young, who was backed by a great six-piece band, including such notable players as bassist Rick Rosas, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Keith — all of whom are veteran sidemen in bands fronted by Pegi's famous husband, Neil Young.
Having seen Pegi open for Neil Young in much larger venues, I was particularly struck by how much better she comes across in a more intimate space like the Triple Door.
Her vocals were not only much stronger than I remember from the arena shows with Neil I've seen, but her stage presence also came across as much warmer — although she needs to work more on letting the audience know the names of the songs being played, especially when they are newer ones.
Concentrating on new songs like "Blue Sunday" and the title track of an upcoming album called Foul Deeds, Pegi also performed songs from her debut album, including the Spooner Oldham penned "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet."
While the band all sounded great playing Pegi's mostly twangy, folk and country-rock influenced songs, the always great Ben Keith was a particular standout on pedal steel and dobro. Guitarist Anthony Crawford also had some fine moments though, and Phil Jones more than passed the Old Grey Whistle Test on drums.
Both Pegi Young and Bert Jansch will resume opening the remaining shows on Neil Young's Twisted Road tour next month — including a return date in Seattle — following a round of headlining club dates on the west coast.
If you make it out to any of these shows, be sure to get there early. Because whether he's headlining in a club or opening for Neil Young in an arena, Bert Jansch is not to be missed.