Reviews

What the Toll Tells

Author: Shawn Conner
09/21/2006 | Georgia Straight | www.straight.com | Live Show Preview
Positive press has followed Two Gallants since the release of the San Francisco–based duo's 2004 debut, The Throes. The acclaim was even more effusive for the band's considerably more polished yet still raw and uncompromising country-blues-rock follow-up, what the toll tells. But one criticism seems to have struck close to home. On the Two Gallants Web site, singer-guitarist Adam Stephens writes of coming home from a tour "to find out [sic] doorstep littered with scorn. the headlines read that we haven't the right to write about our country's embarrassing past."

According to Stephens, reached at home in San Francisco, on-line music magazine Pitchfork had taken exception to a couple of white, middle-class dudes in their mid-20s writing about post–Civil War reconstruction from the perspective of a black sharecropper in the what the toll tells epic "Long Summer Day".

"That was kind of a letdown," says Stephens. "Not so much the criticism but just the fact that something as respected and acknowledged as Pitchfork would be so close-minded as to think our country's history doesn't belong to all of us, that the guilt and the shame of it isn't on all of our shoulders."

In other words, you won't hear any songs on what the toll tells detailing the tortured love lives of its creators, Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel. The record is a blast furnace of country-inflected rockers and ballads delivered with the primal urgency of the Delta blues. Imagine a far-rougher-hewn Uncle Tupelo, with unconventionally structured tragedies that sometimes reach the 10-minute mark, and you have some idea of what the Two Gallants are aiming for. Highlights include the Cormac McCarthy–esque, antiwestern roar of "Las Cruces Jail", the fatalistic "Steady Rollin'?", and the bleak and dusty "Waves of Grain".

The group is even fiercer live, when songs are stretched, mangled, and rebuilt thanks to the almost psychic connection between the two childhood friends. By all accounts, Two Gallants' first Pat's Pub appearance this past summer was a stunner, the kind of show that guarantees repeat business when the band returns to the Hastings Street bar this week.

The hard-touring act has already crossed its homeland three times. In the process, the romantic notions about the U. S. once held by the literary-inclined Stephens—the band is named after a James Joyce short story—have been tossed aside.

"The initial shock to me, coming from someone who dreamed about travelling for so long in sort of a naïve way, from listening to Woody Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan, was how repetitive and monotonous the entire country is," says Stephens. "Mostly it's like tract housing and fast food chains and Wal-Marts that, after a while, are just completely corrosive. People become homogenous as well, and it's hard to find anything of cultural value in the country. As I guarantee there was 40 or 50 years ago."

Maybe he just wasn't made for these times.

"I don't think these times were made for anyone," he says. "Most people just don't realize it yet."

The Two Gallants play Pat's Pub on Friday (September 22).
What the Toll Tells

What the Toll Tells

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