The long awaited reunion of Americana/ folk-rock duo Two Gallants (Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel) finally took place last weekend in their home-city of San Francisco, at the beloved Portero Hill venue, Bottom of the Hill. The venue was completely packed on its second sold out night, and many attendants even flew and drove in for the show. Favorite songs from the duo's four releases to date (three albums and one EP) such as "Seems Like Home to Me", "Steady Rollin'", "Despite What You've Been Told" and especially "Las Cruces Jail" were welcomed by an uproarious crowd. Stephens and Vogel, who have been friends since childhood, were incredibly grateful for the reception of fans, and were as tight in their playing as they were during their last tour in 2008. The two had not played together since their December 2008 performance at The Fillmore. These home shows kick off a North American tour, which will be followed by a string of European dates. With stops in Vienna, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Holland, Belgium and England, these boys will have quite the busy summer. Their show in Vienna is with Saddle Creek Record label-mates Bright Eyes and Warner Bros. band Jenny and Johnny. (Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice both hold ties to the Nebraska-based Saddle Creek Records as well). Another highlight of the tour is a performance in Belgium at a free outdoor festival.
Although Two Gallants are known for Vogel's intense drumming power, the band is revered for its controlled chaos—they have many songs of quiet profundity. One such song of fierce tranquility is "Crow Jane", from 2004's The Throes which was performed with the help of Jackie Perez Gratz (from the San Francisco metal-trio Grayceon) on a beautiful electric cello.
Stephens and Vogel have been recording as Two Gallants (named after a James Joyce story in Dubliners) since their mid-20's, and have been applauded for a sound that authentically hearkens back to the early days of blues music in America. Songs such as "The Deader" (Two Gallants, 2007) were passionately sung along to by fans, with such classic blues sentiments sung by Stephens as "Let the river be my guide, let the desert be my bride". Another audience favorite to sing along to is always "Despite What You've Been Told", with lines such as "I'll take to the hills, savage and free. I don't need nobody and nobody needs me". The band opened with a cover of the Blind Willie McTell song "Dyin' Crap Shooter Blues", which was on their 2003 album-length demo By The Grace of God, and sounded as if it could have been written by Stephens himself. The band also performed their controversial song "Long Summer Day" (What the Toll Tells, 2006), which tells the story of an African American man before the civil rights movement, who is driven crazy by hard work in the hot summer days, while a "white man feels lazy" and turned away from voting. Their songs always tell rich narratives, but this stands out as their most political song to date.
Fans were relieved to see Stephens playing with his full force, as he was seriously injured in an accident when returning from his tour of his solo album released this fall We Live on Cliffs (Saddle Creek). When driving through a Wyoming snowstorm with his drummer Omar Cuellar, their van flipped multiple times. Physical therapy sessions have enabled both to be able to play again.
If you missed them on this tour and are eager to check out new material from the two, Vogel's solo album was released last summer, entitled The Devotionals, and is a mesmerizing instrumental project. Otherwise, stay tuned for the recording of their next album and more home shows to follow.
-Shauna C. Keddy