It’s hard to talk about drum-and-guitar duos these days without drawing comparisons to The Black Keys. Statesville’s The Low Counts definitely recall that band. But the duo of Matt Walsh (vocals, guitar) and Austin Hicks (drums) share much more with the Black Keys’ early, gritty Fat Possum days than with their slick, full-band and expensive leather jackets iteration. Plus — and this would have made fat Possum proud — the Low Counts opened with a Muddy Waters cover.
But the band’s show at Jack of the Wood last weekend was far more about originals than covers. Right out the gate, Walsh and Hicks performed their grungy, blues-soaked “Cut Me Out,” driven by a slinky beat (kick drum and shakers) and Walsh’s deep growl of a vocal.
By three songs in, girls were dancing with girls and hair was flying. Mostly Walsh’s hair. Hicks keeps his hip-length mane anchored in a ponytail, but he had to abandoned his glasses, which kept sliding off his nose as the room heated up. Both musicians played as if they were locked in an isolation booth. Without every making eye contact (difficult through whipping hair), they deadlocked on a shared rhythm and never veered from that forged connection. No matter how wildly frenzied the song got.
The thing about a drum-and-guitar duo (Flat Duo Jets, White Stripes, Ghost Wolves, The Cedric Burnside Project) is that it can’t be timid. Both players have to drum/strum/sing as hard as possible to create a full-band sound with just two instruments. The Low Counts have that part down. The trick is, to play hard and still leave room (and energy) for the music to build.
The Low Counts managed to do that, too.
From searing songs like “Lush,” with its ragged guitar licks and pummeling percussion, to a fierce cover of Bo Diddley’s “Mona,” they delivered a kind of uncontrolled burn. Theirs is not a layered sound so much as an assault. Fuel tossed on a fire. Even a slow song, with the moody line, “Every thing you do, everything you say, I feel the same way,” felt less like couple’s dance and more like a Hendrix jam. Heavy, convoluted and wrung out, the song railed against its own emotional edge, its atonal notes slicing at the melody.
In the best way.
Check the Low Counts tour dates for the band’s next visit to Asheville.