w/ the Proud Flesh. $12, 8 p.m., Dec. 29. The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Building H, Hamden, (203) 288-6400, thespace.tk.
As Two Gallants, guitarist/singer Adam Stephens and drummer/vocalist Tyson Vogel take the potential flammability of their songs very seriously. If the twofer's decisively-punk-in-spirit folk-blues is thinking about starting a fire, it won't be just any mild blaze. No, it'll be an all-consuming four-alarm conflagration — one where their instruments double as torches, and their preference for bravado, honesty and total commitment serve as gasoline. Put the recipe together to savor pretty colors and satisfying crackles.
It's awfully entertaining, then, that a band this typically decisive and forthright can be traced back to something as benign as a carpool. The musicians met and bonded as 5-year-olds living in the same neighborhood and commuting to school together in San Francisco. Everything wasn't peachy during those formative years, though: One of Vogel's first memories of Stephens involves Stephens kicking a ball at Vogel's head and the pair getting into a fist fight. Still, Vogel finds the good in such an experience. "There's that weird kind of alchemy, that chemistry that comes [in that kind of relationship]. I think it's pure honesty, really, in the end," the soft-spoken and extra-polite 31-year-old Vogel says while Gallants are in Paris for a tour. Experiencing those rough patches over trivial matters at a young age can do good, he notes. "We're probably closer than most other people because we were able to get into that kind of fight."
The pair's shared musical history dates back to middle school. Both started playing music at around 12, straying from their parents' appetite for musicals and Neil Diamond by creating a grunge band whose many names included "Stained" and "Pending." That infatuation eventually led them to punk rock — Operation Ivy, the Germs, Black Flag — and then the blues by high school. After each spent time away from their hometown, the 20-somethings eventually started Two Gallants in 2002.
Early into the band's existence, Stephens and Vogel placed flyers around San Francisco looking for a bass player, but their quest quickly ended without settling on one — a decision provoked by both the White Stripes' success as a duo at that time and the idea that adding a bassist would overshadow Two Gallants' subtle and fragile qualities. "Bass is supposed to be there and keep things consistent, and by no means were our songs at that time very consistent," Vogel says. "It was a very emotional dynamic of up and down, and we didn't wanna lose that."
The group rose in DIY fashion, playing shows in bars, basements, parks and wherever else they could seize. Two Gallants, who spent time on high-grade Omaha indie rock label Saddle Creek, took the role as the more aggressive band on bills with fellow folk/blues acts, and the less aggressive one on bills with punk and metal bands. In 2006, they were part of two sizable controversies: a Houston show that ended with Taser usage and arrests (Vogel experienced the latter), and a cover Gallants did of Great Depression-era black singer-songwriter Moses Platt's "Long Summer Day" — a cutting anti-racism track that uses "nigger" multiple times — on What the Toll Tells.
By 2007, fatigue weighed down on the group, so they planned to take time off in early 2008. As more opportunities (such as a European tour) came their way, Two Gallants continued until finally getting that break in summer 2008. It would last much longer than the year Vogel originally imagined. Stephens and Vogel spent time with solo projects and recovering from what Vogel once described as "some pretty heavy shit." (Namely, Vogel dealt with a disintegrating romantic relationship and trouble finding a job, and Stephens experienced two road accidents, including one that nearly killed him.) "I was on a very thin edge for a while with certain substances and all sorts of stuff," the drummer says as he discusses the period.
In 2012, Two Gallants finally went back into action, marking the reunion with last September's The Bloom and the Blight — their fourth record and as fine a testament to their ramshackle delights as anything before. Stephens originally wanted to simply title the record Blight, but Vogel vetoed it because he felt that it didn't encapsulate the record's positivity or the thought that the good and bad are intimately interwoven. Vogel's brand of optimism evidences that it'll take a lot more than fist fights, a hiatus and "heavy shit" to kill Two Gallants. "Now that we're playing again, we feel both that we went through what we needed to go through, though we wish it didn't take so long," he says. "Frankly, some of the things that we both had to go through, I wish that we didn't have to go through, but sometimes, [you] have to grit your teeth and bear up to it."