‘The Toll Tells’ at Troubadour

Critics say Two Gallants are the new Bob Dylan, have the spirit of Johnny Cash or write odes to whiskey worthy of the Pogues. But the band, named after a short story by James Joyce, would sooner cite William Faulkner as an influence.
Two Gallants are a San Francisco-based pair, Adam Stephens on guitar and vocals and Tyson Vogel on drums and backing vocals, who sound more like they belong heartbroken on the banks of the Mississippi River than in the hills above San Francisco Bay.
After an opening set by the Cold War Kids and a weak (though deafening) performance by Los Angelesbased punk foursome Wires on Fire, Two Gallants, fresh from the South by Southwest music and film festival in Austin, Texas, took the Troubadour stage in Los Angeles, Calif. on April 4 to relieved applause.
Onstage, Vogel’s drumming is forceful and wholehearted. His long, dark hair, stringy with sweat, obscures his face in a sort of Cousin It-meets-Conor Oberst fashion. Stephens, while decidedly comfortable in front of an audience, is physically stiff as he plays the guitar and harmonica, rocking jerkily forward and back and alternately facing the crowd and the bandmate to his left. Two may sound a bit lonely to occupy an entire stage, but Stephens and Vogel interact and take advantage of their variety of talents—both men sing, Vogel sometimes plays his drums with a tambourine in one hand and a drumstick in the other, and the audience (save a few very drunk girls) was transfixed when Stephens whistled into the microphone to begin the haunting ‘Las Cruces Jail’ from their new album, ‘What the Toll Tells.’
Two Gallants can hold an audience (they were even cheered back onstage for an encore) with the diversity of their music, which plays with dynamics as well as the genres of blues, country, folk and punk with sounds similar to work by their mentor and label founder Oberst in his work both as Bright Eyes and with his punk band, Desaparecidos.
Two Gallants, who mingled with the crowd during the early sets, also played from their first full-length album, ‘The Throes.’ The club, which sold out despite strong rain on Tuesday night and housed an audience ranging in appearance from high school-scene kids to 20-something lumberjacks (with Vogel standing out as the scraggliest-looking in a hooded sweatshirt and torn cropped pants), responded best to ‘My Madonna,’ a slow, harmonicainfused song with the memorable lines ‘And I wake on the floor with my country at war, and I wish I could care, but my liver’s too sore, and if liquor’s a lover, you know I’m a whore.’
Another favorite was ‘Nothing to You,’ a more upbeat and prose-like song with abrupt pauses like paragraph breaks in a story. The earnestness with which young Stephens writes about being ‘down by the riverside wasting away’ is a bit puzzling coming from a San Francisco kid, but believable nonetheless when the fine-featured blonde is singing to the crowd. Two Gallants are as much campfire storytellers as they are folk or punk musicians.