Reviews

Two Gallants

Author: Eric Herboth
12/13/2007 | Lostatsea.net | www.lostatsea.net | Live Show Preview
Inspired more by the darker moments of Johnny Cash and the delta blues than the thick-stringed goofiness of Les Claypool (with whom they've toured) or the city's litany of funky politi-punk outfits, the guitar and drums duo of Two Gallants hammer a sound from their paired down setup that lands quite far afield from that of the typical band hailing from the foggy hills of San Francisco. Though their sound is quite unlike what one might expect from two tight jeans, t-shirts and Vans-wearing 26-year olds from the city that spawned the careers of the Dead Kennedys and John Vanderslice, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel are nonetheless highly proficient at their work, blending the divergent flavors of deep fried Appalachian folk and languid country ballads with the occasional dash of bare-knucked punk and a heavy dose of unelectrified Southern blues. Try to imagine, if you will, mashing up the sparse, harmonica-infused vagabond songs of Woody Guthrie with the contemporary bounce of t!
he Black Keys and, oh, say... the literacy of the much more orchestrated Decemberists (with whom they've also toured) and you won't be far off the mark. Or, if you prefer, consider the tag of "despairingly alt-country emo rock," proffered in Kevin Alfoldy's review of this year's excellent eponymous album, which is, in its weird little way, fairly accurate.

Having met, as the story goes, through a kindergarten car pool some twenty years ago and remained close until starting up Two Gallants in 2002, to say that Stephens and Tyson share a certain chemistry would be an understatement. Despite their history together, however, I've often heard that the band sometimes struggles live, that especially early on in tours consistency can be lacking from night to night, but their set last night in Frankfurt, Germany, bore no witness to such a notion. The pair ripped through a full program, butting their songs up against one another in a string of continuous sound broken only by the occasional gulp of water or toweling off, hardly a misstep to be heard. That Stephens and Vogel would be in sync for their show at the Mousonturm is little surprise - Two Gallants' current tour, which wraps up Saturday in Berlin, kicked off on November 1st, with just four days of rest spread across six weeks that also included a few days with multiple performanc!
es. Forty-one sets in a month and a half will tighten up any band, let alone a couple of guys who have clocked in for hundreds of shows together over the past half a decade.

Although his slender frame sheds perspiration like a sow in the Sahara, Vogel doesn't really pound his drum kit. Instead, with his skeletal trap set pushed even with Stephens at the front of the stage, mere inches from the sweat-splattered crowd in an attempt to simulate the more intimate basements and dive bars frequented in the band's formative years, it is consistency and an odd precision resting below the surface of Two Gallants' sometimes sloppy and freewheeling songs that gives his playing its power. In a live setting Vogel is as much of a focal point as Stephens, if not more so; arms flailing, hair whipping about, his style rests more on bringing almost melodic accents to his band mate's rather homogenous guitar tuning than on manhandling his equipment. Last night, his Strawberry Shortcake-styled gear case propped up on the amplifier behind him, Vogel caressed his skins more than beat them, the band's songs demanding attention to detail above brutality, that style of !
fluid attack serves the couple well, with a few stick-breaking beats tossed in for good measure. In fact, Vogel's playing was often what paved the way for Stephens' guitar, so much so that I'd feel comfortable declaring his beats as the current keeping the Two Gallants barge moving forward.

Stephens, on the other hand, seemed content to go about his business in Frankfurt, the only thing other than lyrics to escape his lips during the night being fine tuning requests for the soundboard. That said, his playing - which covers the range of bass, melody, and harmony at once - was anything but reserved. When not laying out tales of cutthroat husbands, murdering gunslingers, betrayed and bitter lovers, hobos and pool hall hoodlums, Stephens stalked the stage with his fingerpicking, occasionally kneeling, occasionally hovering over Vogel, but always in motion, as if a moment's pause anywhere but the microphone might leave him in the dust as the songs marched on.

Thus far Two Gallants have delivered three full length albums along with a handful of EPs and singles, and aside from the sorely missed "Crow Jane," the pair pulled out most of the more well-known numbers from their catalogue - "Seems Like Home To Me," "Prodigal Son," the twin-guitared "Carrion Crow," "Nothing To You," and "Steady Rollin'" resonating especially well - before closing out with "Las Cruces Jail," the barn burning stomper that leads off their 2005 Saddle Creek debut, What The Toll Tells, and the only number of the night to prompt a response (hoots, hollers, and even a bit of dancing!) from the reserved crowd of Germans. After a brief pause, during which time my fellow countrymen and women returned to their traditionally reserved and stoic posture, Two Gallants returned to the stage for a two-song encore before bidding Frankfurt farewell. Near the end of the band's set Vogel remarked that, although it seemed like just the other day, the two had been in the city a!
lmost a year earlier, and one can only hope that time between now and their next ride through the Old Continent will pass just as quickly.
Two Gallants

Two Gallants

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Two Gallants

Two Gallants

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What the Toll Tells

What the Toll Tells

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