Folk-rock, post-folk, folk-punk, post-grunge, Western-blues, folk-blues—over the past 10 years, music writers have piled up a veritable Jenga tower of labels to define San Francisco’s Two Gallants, who play Yugong Yishan on November 16.
There are two kinds of bands that attract these kind of tortured, hyphenated descriptions: line-dancing hybrids, and bands that are doing something so subtly and inescapably themselves that their music defies easy labeling. With their stripped-down brand of emo-influenced music, Two Gallants are solidly of the latter category, which explains why attempts at labeling them so often dissolve into a big pot of genre-alphabet soup.
But then, the duo has never been about the easy sound byte. Case in point: “I don’t really like the word ‘folk’,”singer-guitarist Adam Stephens tells me. “I’d never deny our debt to that music but I wouldn’t ever want anyone to think that we are giving off the impression that we consider ourselves bastions from the past.”
With a name derived from a James Joyce story and music which alternately impresses and irks music writers, Two Gallants is a band that begs to be explained, footnoted and pinned down. In stark contrast to the band’s growing pile of allusions and references is their music: raw, straight-ahead folk-rock (yes, I said it) with a punk spirit and an angsty ’90s edge. Or, as Stephens describes it, “roots-grunge-metal.”
Two Gallants have established themselves as one of the bigger names in American indie-folk. The childhood friends earned their punk rock stripes through years spent wailing out their music on street corners, house shows and holes in sundry walls. After cutting their teeth in San Francisco, the pair started traveling, and began building buzz for themselves the old-fashioned way: with fiery and compelling live shows.
That fire hasn’t always served them well. Two Gallants is famous for playing a show which was broken up by taser-wielding cops over a song deemed racially insensitive. More recently there was that two-year “hiatus” as well as Stephens’ two recent road accidents. But despite all that, since their recent reunion, Stephens says the music is happier than ever—and maybe even starting to grow up.
“Despair and disparity were pretty constant themes of the older songs,” he says. “The newer songs are a bit more confident and, unlike the older ones, I’d like to think they celebrate life a bit more than criticize it.”
What: Two Gallants
Where: Yugong Yishan
When: Nov 16, 9pm