Two Gallants check all the boxes to suit the story of the perfect American, folk, alternative band of modern times.
Too many adjectives already, let’s start.
Two Gallants are a duo. They don’t have a bass player. It saves a seat and allows to rent a smaller tour van. It’s cheaper to tour a duo, it gives more profit than a six member band and, I believe this is not my theory, can help budgets in crisis’ times. I would like to see a graph of the increase of duos and trios and the decrease of big bands touring in the last couple of decades.
Two Gallants play guitar, Adam Stephens does and sporadically adds some harmonica. And drums, the duty of Tyson Vogel. Both sing and they do not need that bassist.
They do need beards, though.They both have.
Wikipedia teaches me Two Gallants have been around for over a decade. Adam and Tyson have been playing music together since they were kids and recorded two self-released albums separately. Which triggers my first (unanswered) question: if you have been composing together since twelve why have you released the debut separately? Wikipedia doesn’t clarify.
As Two Gallants, the duo’s debut dates 2004: The Throes. To increase the indie myth the news is that the album was remixed on vinyl only in 2006. On that 12″ there is a bonus song, a cover of Anna’s Sweater, by an unknown, defunct San Francisco band. Indie-tasty in its own, but there is more. The first 500 copies of the vinyl reissue were mistakenly pressed with a different tune, Mother’s Blues in it. If Two Gallants were going to be The White Stripes, the owners of those 500 copies may cash some real bucks on ebay.
In 2006 the band signed to Saddle Creek and had a burst in productivity. It released two more albums in as many years, What The Toll Tells and self-titled Two Gallants, plus 2 EPs in the between, more Indie credentials checked.
This is also the moment when an oddity in the biography would be useful. While touring the album in a club in Houston, Texas, a policeman was called to investigate a noise from the club. Two Gallants were playing. The cop attacked the band and the audience with a taser. Vogel spent the night in jail. The Texas police got another point to rank the chart of the stupidest police force in the world. I wonder what the officer would have done if Anthrax were on stage.
Years went by and, busy as usual, I forgot Two Gallants. I kept stumbling upon the self-titled album in record shops, I remember the weird cover, but the band vanished for 5 long years. A couple of months ago they reappeared on Rolling Stone streaming in full their fourth long playing: The Bloom and The Blight. I also learnt they released solo efforts and had some personal problems. What stays is that for a long time the band was out of the circuit.
To put things in a contest, The Beatles in five years went from Please Please Me to Sgt. Peppers (8 albums) or, in modern times, the White Stripes from De Stijl to Get Behind Me Satan (4 albums), such a long silence for an indie band in the contemporary scene is, indeed, a terrifying silence.
To make things worse, during Two Gallants five years hiatus, the American band that most closely compares to them, The Black Keys, rose to stardom. And the American band that most closely threatened The Black Keys up to that point, The White Stripes, went on hiatus.
So, if in 2007 my fantasy depicts a scene where Two Gallants and Black Keys were paired in their American roots cult, with the White Stripes dominating the garage blues world, since 2007 it changed radically.
Two Gallants disappeared, the Ohio duo paved their path to the Grammys’ red carpet with a mainstream trilogy, Attack and Release (2008), Brothers (2010) and El Camino (2011) and Meg White depression put the White Stripes to an indefinite halt.
At the end of the decade the Auerback/Carney duo (now mostly a quartet) went from playing the Astoria to Brixton Academy to headline Coachella and Lollapalooza. Jack White went side projects then solo project. Two Gallants went missing.
This was the scene when The Bloom and The Blight streamed. Now, I understand they are not the Black Keys and even less the White Stripes. I know is lazy to do such comparisons and there are rivers of words explaining to me the difference between them… but… To the occasional listener and the person that sporadically buys an album every six months, the fact is that Black Keys’ sold loads of albums and likely some at the expense of Two Gallants’. I struggle to believe their audiences are so different, despite music analysits can demonstrate otherwise.
I arrive at the lovely Junction2, best Cambridge venue by far, on a chilly Monday evening. The roadies are setting the stage after the support pushing the drum kit to the very edge, very close to me. A big band poster hangs on the background. Stephens and Vogel set and soundcheck their instruments. Beard, San Francisco Giants T-Shirt. All fits the alternative look they impersonate.
What I didn’t understand from the reviews, and didn’t catch from their records, is the amount of rumbling noise this duo creates. Cleverly, to differentiate from The Black Keys, they cut down the blues to a minimum and soul and rhythm and blues don’t flow in their veins. Even more important, they got their album produced by Jong Congleton instead of Danger Mouse. Congleton apport is an essential credit to the sound.
On top of a dusty, countryside landscape profiling the horizon as if Renaissance happened in Texas, Two Gallants don’t put Mona Lisa but a wall of heavy sound that explains even the Houston noise complain which generated the cop madness. Adam Stephens has an original, remarkable voice. Throughout the set I think often at The Band with the not subtle different that these two guys seem to make as much music as a five member full band would struggle to do. Even more when the harmonica bits of Stephens’ arrive to play parts that could well be of horns.
They wipe away my Black Keys prejudices, Two Gallants are a solid reality in their own. Their music concentrates the best of American root rock and folk and the live set expands these boundaries well beyond. I do hope the long break gave them enough rest from the scenes that we will not have to wait as much to see them again.
“Three songs no flash”? Ok, that’s fine.
There are concerts when three songs may be enough and respect for the audience takes priority and helps to build respect for concert photographers.
I may shoot the entire gig tonight, there is no security in the tiny pit, it is not sold-out and the band looks relaxed.
To let people enjoy the show, once I understood I took the photos I wanted and wouldn’t get many different staying longer, I leave the pit and go to the back of the venue to enjoy the concert in a comfortable central, elevated seat of the theatre’s first ring. Given the small venue, the stage is low and despite the band makes some good noise I realise to stand between the artists and their fan may be annoying. I decide to walk away.
The set doesn’t change much from song to song, the band attitude is the same throughout and I can snap a bit more from the back, playing hide and seek with the Junction stewards that allow any camera to take photos but mine.
Concert photography is highly addictive. The adrenaline grows while in the pit and that feeling of “this is the concert image that will change the world and my life” kicks us constantly.
To step down, think and understand it is neither so essential nor so important is key.
Unfortunately, I knew Two Gallants pictures were unlikely to be published on major papers and, with dates everywhere in the country, it was also unlikely that Cambridge show would have featured on the music webzines that regularly publishing my galleries.
A low key show, nevertheless a good one that I enjoyed and I wanted to share.