Los Angeles-based Papa kicked off a night of indie rock at The Grey Eagle on Thursday. Papa is formed (both conceptually and actually, on stage) around drummer-songwriter Darren Weiss. Weiss was the clear leader, but from slightly back stage; bassist Daniel Presant was front and just off center. Touring in support of this summer’s release, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find, Papa has added keys and guitar.
The guitar is important: On the album, Papa uses a guest guitarist on each track and the songs are definitely melody-driven with an emphasis on ‘60-era garage rock, surf-rock, and near doo-wop sounds that would be impossible to pull off with only drum and bass. The song “Let’s Make You Pregnant” opened into a full-on rock assault. Enough to set the floor vibrating. Another offering launched with the vocal-only line “Let me be good to you, honey,” before the introduction of a muscular beat. At under a minute, and with no other lyrics, it was an interesting (and successful) experiment. Papa, kinetic and bouncy, was at its best when all of its members sang.
Following that mostly upbeat, mostly raucous (and relatively long) opening set, Two Gallants appeared on stage looking almost too fragile and too small of an outfit to take up the torch. But, though guitarist/vocalist Adam Stephens and drummer/vocalist Tyson Vogel are smallish guys, their sound is anything but. They started with “Winter’s Youth” — just a chilling vocal and mallets on cymbal, before crashing into the full force of the song.
By the second song, “Despite What You’ve Been Told,” the audience was singing along. Stephens and Vogel seemed touched (if awkwardly so) by the crowd’s reaction, though later drunken and insistent requests for songs and declarations of undying love clearly made both musicians uncomfortable. Still, it had to be a nice change from past Asheville shows for Two Gallants: At one point Stephens recalled “driving for like a month” to perform at Vincent’s Ear in 2004. “They forgot we were supposed to play,” he said.
Though, from the first notes, Two Gallants’ set was fraught with dark emotion, underscored by Stephens’ raw vocal, the duo built intensity through songs like the aching “My Love Won’t Wait” and the folky-bluesy “Willie Sweet Willie.” Even when Vogel traded percussive battery for the rhythmic cannonade of “Steady Rollin’,” the dark edge seeped through. This is a band that looks to the void for inspiration, and even when light cracks a song here and there (e.g., the surprising reggae skank-like finale of “Las Cruces Jail”), darkness is the place to which they return.
Which is not to say that Two Gallants don’t have a great sense of dynamics. They do. “Las Cruces Jail” is a mastery of the play between fast/slow and hard/soft. And there’s a deft melding of genres and styles, too — Stephens added harmonica on some songs, edging toward folk without abandoning the punk teeth of Two Gallants’ sound. “The Prodigal Son” takes cues from the Immigrant folk while a new song (more recent even than new album The Bloom and the Blight — read a review of it here) mixed Zeppelin-esque rock with Fleet Foxes-esque folkloric-ness. The guitar part took on a Renaissance lilt, tinged with metal. But wherever a song led the duo, they ended clean and sharp each time, practiced to perfection.
If you’ve got a Daytrotter subscription, you can check out Two Gallant’s just-released session here.