December 26, 2008
Review and Photos by Sam Prestianni
Better Than: Banging heroin while watching "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 7th time in a row.
Christmas came one day late for the Bay Area's homegrown lo-fi heroes Two Gallants. Like most native sons, guitarist-singer Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel had long dreamed of playing the legendary Fillmore Auditorium. But San Francisco being San Francisco, the audience reception at the nearly-sold out gig was a bittersweet gift this holiday season.
The club was fairly packed with old friends and loyal fans of the duo's raucous brand of dark and eloquent indie folksong, a tuneful mix of dirty yet melodic finger-picking and forceful beats that copy the six string rhythms to provide a sturdy scaffold upon which Stephens wails with white-boy soul power. The concertgoers were well-acquainted with the combo's downbeat lyrics, shouting out choice lines, like "Sun, don't you rise no more" (from "Las Cruces Jail") and "I don't want to see you fall/ I just want to see you fail" (from "Reflections of the Marionette"). Such warmly embraced odes to despondency made me see Two Gallants and their scruffy, scrawny, twenty-something peer group as a kind of Generation XX, heirs to both Beck's "Loser" legacy (without a hint of irony this time around) and the heroin chic of grunge (think of a post-therapy Mudhoney, all touchy-feely but still gunning for a personal apocalypse).
Given the global economic crisis that's effectively gutted any sense of
health and well-being until at least the Great Purification of 2012,
the vibe seemed appropriate. And yet there was uplift through
solidarity. Led by Stephens's whiskey-drenched clarion call to the
ugly-beauty of hopelessness and Vogel's hammer-of-the-gods grooves (not
your daddy's bongo bumps by a long stretch), the crowd caroled
enthusiastically throughout much of the set, capping the evening's
singalongs with an exuberant "Wasting away!!!" on the fitting encore,
"Nothing to You." Of course, this was all very sweet.
On the bitter end, turkeys in the back of the club too often gobblygooked on stuffed stockings and mowed-down grandmas, drowning out the Two Gallants lead singer during a particularly heartfelt ballad. But Stephens took the scenester silliness in stride. Like Christ on the cross, he stared down the spotlight with a weariness that said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they've done. Then there were the Blackberry-thumbing geeks, who know not the value of a $20 concert ticket, and the duo's misguided boyhood pals (with All-Access badges, no less) who stirred up an absurd mosh pit until realizing the error of their ways.All said, the show was not quite a Blue Christmas. But as the voice of their generation, Two Gallants deserve much more respect.
Personal Bias: "Baby, shine your light on me..." I was singing the opening lines of "Seems Like Home to Me" to my homegirl all Christmas day in anticipation of this show.
Random Detail: The fashion statement of the folk-grunge movement: flannel-on-flannel (yep, two shirts, one fabric).