The formula of reverb-drenched-rock, guitar-drum-vocal, two-man band has proven itself, time and again, to be a successful combination. Acts like the Black Keys and the White Stripes proved that it could be done, and tore their way up the charts while they did so. It is, nevertheless, challenging, blending a careful balance of lo-fi and limited composition with gripping vocals, intricately crafted licks, and thundering percussion, maintaining a smart pop sensibility the entire time. To avoid being pigeonholed, however, as another blues-rock soldier on his quest to the top, it’s important to bend the rules of the genre, throw in some curveballs, and introduce some unique elements to one’s sound, such as the close, soulful cousins that are bluegrass and western folk music. San Francisco duo Two Gallants have done just that, constructing a sonic experience that bears this variety of genres, and yet still stands unique and full of raw passion, which they brought to the Fillmore on Saturday night for their end-of-the-tour hometown show.
Perhaps determined to keep their audience entertained with the most thorough evening of genre-bending possible, Two Gallants offered their opening spot to their local compatriots Future Twin, an act that manages to cram elements of soaring post-rock, 60s psychedelia, jangly folk chords, and more, into an 8-song set that was as marvelous to behold. Singer SINGER offered up her PJ Harvey-esque vocals and deftly-wielded tremolo plucking to the wall of sound that the quartet hurled out to the crowd before them, with bassist BASS and drummer DRUMS trading roles halfway through the set for a sudden switchup of the powerful rhythm section. Each song grew and transformed from a gentle, encouraging beginning to a massive tidal wave of reverberant distortion, falling back down to its opening dirge for a breathtaking release at the end. The quartet was subtle and minor in their movement, but their music rose high to the heavens to fall joyfully into the ears of all who beheld it.
While Future Twin spent three quarters of an hour creating mountainous space sonatas from their quirky folk rock starters, the omnilocational trio known as Akron/Family offered only one delicate, ethereal tune before roaring into their set with all the fury of a hurricane. A blend of oft-distorted math rock, smartly-wandering jazz signatures, and two- and three-part harmonies was offered by the energetic, frenetic combination of Miles and Seth, who leapt back and forth across the stage, while drummer Dale offered his own expert balance of grace and ferocity to the performance. Songs clawed their way to life, metamorphosing between violent, beautiful, sing-along, and chaotic distortion, with destructively gorgeous melodies paving the way throughout. Those not as dense as their studio albums, the live performance chops of Akron/Family are a force to be reckoned with, with a listening experience as complex as their name is unusual.
With the Super Bowl barely a day ahead of them, however, the fans of San Francisco were most excited about the eventual appearance of their folk-rock heros, and around the hour of 11:00pm, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel made their way to the dark, softly-lit stage of the Fillmore to ecstatic cheers and applause. Greetings were to be offered later in the set, as Stephens immediately tore into the opening notes of “Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues”, his reedy, country-soaked tenor a sparkling phosphorescence that twinned magnificently with the explosive bursts of Vogel’s drums. Little movement was offered by the duo, with Stephens occasionally wandering over to climb onto the stand that housed Vogel and his kit, but onstage antics were not the focus here. The joy-strained faces of the pair was the most conclusive evidence of their unbridled passion springing into existence for all to behold, and they let their music do the rest of the talking for them.
Having just birthed a new record into existence the previous year, the men of Two Gallants had a wide variety of new material to pull from, and most of their set was culled from their 2012 opus The Bloom and the Blight. Older numbers, such as “Las Cruces Jail” and “Despite What You’ve Been Told”, got the biggest response from the cheering crowd, who sang along with every single word in a merry chorus that filled the Fillmore with a thrilling vibrance. Near the end of the night, Stephens traded his guitar for a baby grand that sat in the shadowy upper stage, offering up a haunting piece that was offered no title (nor does it appear on any current albums by the band). He remained there for the finale of the set, a stirring, rousing rendition of The Bloom and the Blight opener “Halcyon Days”, which saw Vogel taking up a guitar in his stead, and leading the audience in synchronized hand claps before leaping into their midst, surfed back and forth by his onlookers. A thunderstorm of stomps and shouts pulled the pair onstage for a three-song encore, and just before the hour of 1:00am, the memorable evening came to a close.
Wildly-themed, remarkably passionate performances, such as those put on by this evening’s acts, are the most exciting part of a show for me, and tonight was no exception to the rule. While I was less enthused about their lack of crazed antics onstage, Two Gallants’ music, and the unyielding emotion that flows from them, are amazing forces to be reckoned with. Akron/Family were absolutely mesmerizing from the moment they set foot onstage, the nonstop energy bouncing back and forth between them like a rabid animal tearing itself across a tundra, and Future Twin’s pieces were stunning in their progression and ever-shifting dynamics. With Two Gallants’ tour coming to a close, it’s likely that Stephens and Vogel may be building newer material for a while before they return to the road, but the other two acts have potential to be back on the road even sooner — perhaps with equally-fascinating openers of their own.
Two Gallants’ setlist:
- Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues
- My Love Won’t Wait
- Despite What You’ve Been Told
- Winter’s Youth
- The Hand That Held Me Down
- Steady Rollin’
- Ride Away
- The Prodigal Son
- Las Cruces Jail
- Broken Eyes
- Cradle Pyre
- Halcyon Days
- Waves Of Grain
- Song Of Songs
- Nothing To You
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2013 Jonathan Pirro.