In the rock world, fame — even a modest portion — entitles the bearer to considerable leeway in following his or her dream, wherever that dream may lead. For Duncan Sheik, that’s meant taking the opportunity to express his veneration for Nick Drake, the tragic British folkie who’s gotten more mainstream attention through a recent car commercial than he did in his short life.
Sheik, who has long carried a torch for Drake’s complex, bucolic music, would seem oddly suited to perform it. But at this intimate gig, the Ivy League grad forged deep into the often murky recesses of Drake’s “Pink Moon” album, bringing the songs to the fore with minimal personalization.
Abetted by guitarist Gerry Leonard, with whom he is recording an album on the arty Nonesuch label, Sheik performed the 1972 disc’s 11 songs faithfully, extracting every nuance of melancholy from “Place to Be” and every shred of self-loathing from the discomfiting “Parasite.”
The duo, who switched instruments frequently in keeping with the unusual tunings Drake employed, shared the stage with surprising equanimity — with Leonard even taking lead vocals on a brace of songs, including “Pink Moon” itself. That interplay — and the evident sincerity exuded by Sheik — went a long way toward making the set seem like more than a vanity project.
To round out the short set, Sheik and Leonard turned to an earlier Drake album, “Five Leaves Left,” for the slightly brawnier chantey “River Man” — which segued poignantly into Sheik’s own “A Body Goes Down,” which he dedicated to the late Jeff Buckley.
It may not have been the feel-good performance of the spring, but this set did prove that there are still musicians out there with a sense of history — and a respect for it that outstrips self-aggrandizing poses.