Two Gallants howl and shred at The Social, Orlando

A look back at the June 17 show.

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I’ve driven my boyfriend to the threshold of insanity playing Two Gallants’ “Steady Rollin’” on repeat for days at a time. The song is infectious, rebellious and moody with simultaneous nods to the past and the present, and as such, it encapsulates all that Two Gallants are. So as I rolled toward Orlando on Mon., June 17, I crossed my fingers that this song would be on the duo’s setlist for their show at The Social.

Broncho, a four-piece from Oklahoma, opened. They had performed with Feral Babies at New World in Ybor the Friday prior, and I'd heard mixed reviews: they were boring; they were awesome. This dichotomy intrigued me, and I couldn’t wait to cast a vote for myself.

As I listened and watched on, I noted that Broncho possessed almost all of the ingredients to earn a stamp of approval. A lead singer with unorthodox vocals? Check; Ryan Lindsay reminded me of Gordon Gano. Frenetic and simple-yet-effective instrumentation? They had a garage-rock sound I kept comparing to — of all bands — Bratmobile. (Does a Gano-led Bratmobile cover band sound all shades of awesome to anyone else? Did the Femmes’ reunion peter out in May? I smell side-project!) But the one thing I couldn’t brook: the lyrics. As an ex-wannabe poet and confessed Dylanophile, lyrics are religion to me. Broncho’s penchant for whoops and yowls and do-do-dos inspired zero worship from me. Others audience members didn't seem to share my opinion on this and yelped vociferously along.

Two Gallants set their stage with a rack of guitars, an extra-large drum kit with numerous cymbals and an electric keyboard — a lot of equipment for a two-piece band. It’s understandable, then, that Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel make more noise than is expected for a blues-folk duo. Studio albums, a carefully considered blend of dynamics, are tame compared to their live show. Both musicians wore their fondness for metal on their sweaty sleeves. Stephens struck his heavily distorted red hollowbody or red Strat guitars and yowled like a man possessed while Vogel assaulted his drums. To say that an aggressive, unrestrained drummer looks like Animal, the Muppet, may be a cliché, but for Vogel it’s apt. Was he using a double kick pedal, or did it just sound like he was? From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell.

They granted me my wish as they tore through “Steady Rollin’” and other favorites such as “Despite What You’ve Been Told,” “Las Cruces Jail” and “My Love Won’t Wait.” One cover made its way into the show: Nirvana’s “Aneurysm.” I've always felt Nirvana covers that succeed are the ones that take a song and completely subvert it, like Tori Amos’s spin on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Musicians attempting to do Nirvana qua Nirvana are setting themselves up for failure. But the Gallants proved me very, very wrong. They had the grit, the angst, the volume and the audacity, and it paid off.

The night wasn’t all raucous distortion and shredded vocal chords. In the middle of the nearly two-hour set, Stephens moved to keys, and Vogel grabbed an acoustic guitar and softly finger-picked as he sang backing vocals. Though it was the most subdued part of the night, it wasn’t the most heart-wrenching. This came during their performance of “My Madonna,” a lengthy dirge about self-destruction and deleterious love. Stephens’ voice, laden with ache, smothered the room. Those who had been singing along to every other song stood in awed silence and let the sound inundate them. At the end, Vogel stood at the edge of the stage, lanky and Christ-like with his long, shaggy hair. Hands reached up to catch him as he fell forward into the crowd. No stage dive I’ve witnessed has ever appeared so magical or more like an act of salvation rather than rock-star posturing.

I wish Two Gallants had ended on this note. It was the perfect climax, chilling and exposed. But they came back for a two-song encore, finishing out the night with “Nothing to You.” While I sang that song in a loop the entire drive home, “My Madonna” is the memory from the show that has been seared into my mind for good.

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