Nov 1, 2007 - 10:59 AM
The next few times I heard them, they were playing in a basement, and the production value of my listening experience skyrocketed. Their indie-folk style, firmly embedded in deep delta blues, sounded confident and mature. Their music brought to mind influences that varied from Mississippi John Hurt to Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain. They were unquestioningly better than the bands I usually heard in basements.
From the first (non-cell phone) show, it seemed like a matter of time and touring before they signed with a label and took off on a bigger career path. When that moment came, and they signed to Saddle Creek Records in 2005, it couldn’t have been less surprising. Since then, they’ve put out two albums and two EPs, including September’s self-titled release. It was well over a year before I would get a chance to see them play again.
When Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel – the Two Gallants in question – took the stage at The Independent on Oct. 27, my live experience soared beyond the territory of both basements and cell phones and into the rarified air of concert speakers and multi-channel mixing boards. Cameramen shot from the sides of the stage and from the rail of the balcony at the back of the full-capacity crowd.
Stephens and Vogel have known each other and made music together since they were kids, and it shows. You can hear it in the key shifts, sudden breaks and tempo changes that they move through with practiced, synchronistic precision. And you can see it in their communication and camaraderie onstage. At one point, Stephens got on his knees beside Vogel’s drum set, leaned in, and they proceeded through the song smiling and with near-constant eye contact. What’s more, Two Gallants has no clear front man on the stage; Vogel’s drums are placed right up front, beside Stephens.
As they proceeded through their set, the lessons of the road showed through in their playing. Stephens’ fingers, dressed in steel fingerpicks, flew through their plucking patterns without hesitation. Vogel hovered over his set with his arms coming up high and down hard and with his stringy, brown hair in constant motion before his face. It almost seemed like he was winging it at times – not because there was anything sloppy to his playing, but because it was so loose and wide-ranging that some of his rapid fills seemed like playful, spontaneous flourishes.
Although the acoustic experience had made drastic improvements since the first times I heard Two Gallants, the scope of the event didn’t eradicate the sense of intimacy that pervaded those earlier shows. Stephens and Vogel are both from San Francisco. They played the majority of their early gigs in the area, and after spending much of the last two years on American and European roads, the show had a definite sense of homecoming. The crowd shouted out requests from the band’s catalogue of music, sang along and cheered or made other approving noises within the first few notes of many of the songs.
Part way through the set, Stephens paused for a moment, thanked the audience and said, “I’m glad to be back.”
Someone behind me yelled, “Yeah, welcome back motherfucker.”
Stephens smirked and dropped his face. He said, “We’re not going to talk to you guys anymore.” The crowd twittered.
But before the band left and returned for an encore with a debut song, Vogel stopped and once again addressed the crowd. “Thank you for being with us,” he said. “This is our home.”
For more info, visit www.twogallants.com
Josh Lehman is a freelance writer, online producer and journalism student at San Francisco State University. He sprung from the fecund soil of idyllic Fresno, before emigrating to the Bay Area on a mission to save the future. He is currently looking for suggestions on how exactly to begin.
Michelle Tri Hai Le is a freelance photojournalist. Her middle name, Tri Hai, means "Wisdom as vast as the ocean." She just recently learned that her last name is pronounced "lay," not "lee."