It was with a shiver I ventured out into a bleak and rainy night to witness San Franciscan duo Two Gallants swing by the Brudenell, admittedly knowing very little about them except for their reputation for being perhaps bleaker than the evening. With a capacity crowd queuing long before doors opened, my interest was well and truly piqued.
Support came in the form of Brighton based grungster Theo Verney, playing to a largely disinterested crowd eager for the main event. In fairness, he did little to win them over. Opening with what sounded like Bleach era Nirvana, the set ran the gamut from Pearl Jam's worst excesses, by way of bad Led Zeppelin pastiche to a fizzy Vaselines-a-like track that was almost bearable. Like a group of VI formers wearing their influences excitedly on their sleeves, without realising that all they've done is copy their heroes, Theo and his band were haphazard genre hopping at its worst, and a prime example of how, in this internet age, very few acts are given the chance to brew their influences and come out the other side with a fully formed vision. The only saving grace was the obscenely talented drummer, who despite everything managed to string the whole thing together with a modicum of passion, in direct contrast to Theo's overly chummy stage presence.
Enter then, Two Gallants. Touring in support of their fifth studio effort, We Are Undone, they sit at an intersection of soulful blues, soaring gothic sparseness and shuddering, uncomfortably honest folk rock. Making a ridiculous amount of noise for two people, but with a stylised purposefulness, they took to the stage with first track Reflections of the Marionette, any lingering chatter of the audience soon silenced. This lament to lost love is suffocating in its unapologetic bitterness. Like a heartbroken friend crying on you in a club toilet, it's stifling, and you want to run away, but ultimately, by the time it's over, you're glad to have been there.
Partially disguising their bleakness in beautiful, haunting melody, the snarling confessions pack a heavier punch when they eventually sneak through. What they offer is a soundscape as epic and as floundering as modern life, a intricate yet simply proffered depiction of what it is to be human now. Famed for their anti gentrification stance, with the Bay Area unrecognisable from the hometown of their youth, they have more than most to say about urban life and the chasm between those at the top and bottom of society. This despair is captured perfectly on The Prodigal Son and main set closer We Are Undone. Whilst the vocals do occasionally veer bizarrely into Dennis Locorriere territory, they are technically perfect, a musicians band in every sense.
There's a sea shanty element to tracks such as Steady Rolling, in the truest folky presentation of the genre, as documenters of their time rather than analysers, and the crowd lapped it up. The problem with a band at this stage of their career is that vast swathes of your audience are there to hear their favourites, and there was a slight feeling of impatience and eventual relief when the chance to sing along arrived. As a band this must be claustrophobic. Although the newer songs lack the vitality of the older, for me they were the most interesting to watch, a stark, scorched earth Americana.
Weaving a modern tapestry, Two Gallants speak to a global disaffectedness. No hope, no solutions, just a depth of emotion and technical proficiency not often seen in the live performance; dealing in moments, not manifesto. Like that bit on the boat on the way back from Alcatraz, when you forget you've been to what is essentially Beamish with headsets; when the cold spray hits your face, you look into the murky depths of the Pacific ocean, and for a second its overwhelming and humanising and you realise with a start how desperate those escapees must have been. That's the feeling that watching Two Gallants gives. It's unbearable and stifling, but ultimately, you're glad to have been there.
Two Gallants Official