Live Review: AA, Holy Ghost, Two Gallants, when the stars come out to play…

Category: Blog — @ 4:54 pm October 1, 2005

Just another typical night at Sokol Underground? Hardly.

The draw was around 100 if I had to venture a guess, not as many as I thought would show up. So much for the we-just-got-signed-to-Saddle Creek drawing power. Two Gallants is still on the rise, they’re not going to sell out the Underground. Not yet, anyway. Someday, probably. Sooner than you think.

Anyway. Opening the show was Anonymous American, who I’ve seen at least a dozen times. They’re good. Look, if you like your rock and roll with a double-shot of bourbon and a long-neck chaser, if you like massive hooks (not indie hooks, not prog hooks, not country hooks for God’s sake), the kind of hooks you expect to hear on your local FM, you have to check out AA. They’re a top-drawer saloon band that would be right at home behind a wall of chicken-wire fencing. Frontman Matt Whipkey is and will ever be a top-notch showman, a throwback performer to a time when people expected more from a band than four slouching beatniks that look like they’re about to cry. That said, AA doesn’t belong in Omaha. Austin? Maybe. Nashville? Possibly. The West Coast, definitely. Omaha, hmmm… I don’t know. They definitely were out of place on this bill, but it didn’t matter. They just wanted to rock.

So now, the star turn…

After they finished their set I was standing by the cash register and in walks Lea Thompson (Caroline in the City, Back to the Future, Jaws 3D) and Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall, News Radio, Celebrity Poker Showdown), along with soon-to-be-star Nik Fackler. I’d heard that all three had been cast in a movie being shot around town. And here they were, checking out some of Omaha’s gritty nightlife. My recollection of the two out-of-towners: Both are very short. Thompson is as lovely as ever. Foley looked like he grew up in South O instead of Canada, sporting a head o’ gray hair and an old-guy beer gut. They looked like a couple of locals, which I guess is what they’re playing in the movie.

But I digress. The stars showed up just in time to see The Holy Ghost Revival, the band touring with Two Gallants who’s music is somewhat in the same vein, though a little more fleshed out with keyboards, a bass, sort of like a regular band but with a frontman who looked like Iggy Pop’s son complete with tit-length hair and exposed abs throughout his shirtless set. I heard them described as a cross between Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Frank Zappa. I likened them more to a psychedelic jug band. I will say that I didn’t dislike them as much as everyone else I spoke with, none of whom “got” what they were trying to do (The clarinet on the opening song was a bad way to start). Fact is, their style seemed identical to Two Gallants’ albeit a little more proggy and sung by Geddy Lee.

Finally, on came Two Gallants. For as many people who had seen them before, there were just as many who had not and had come out to hear who this band was that Saddle Creek Records just invited into their fold. My girlfriend probably caught the gist of their sound best when — listening to their track on the new Saddle Creek records compilation, Lagniappe — she said “Who is this guy? He sounds like Rod Stewart.” I hadn’t thought of that before, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind while watching them on stage last night. Lead vocalist Adam Stephens does have a certain Steward-y gravel-drawl that’s even more noticeable when he reaches his raggedy limits.

Two Gallants’ music comes in two distinct flavors. First, there’s the high-energy, 3/4-time pirate songs, where Stephen belts out an endless stream of lyrics over his electric guitar and Tyson Vogel’s all-over-the-place-but-with-no-bottom drumming. Vogel’s style is completely scattershot, a miasma of rhythms like a beatbox with the knobs twisted to “hyperactive.” Their upbeat songs all sounded identical to me, like rousing ship-galley sea-shanty ballads on meth.

Then there’s their slower, quieter tunes that downplay Vogel and accentuate simple, repeated melodies along with the endless stream of lyrics. While less ferocious, the gentle ballads are more interesting.

In both cases, the songs are too long — a criticism that I know the duo is sick of hearing. Regardless, they have no intention of moving away from largess — Stephens told me that their new CD has one track that’s over nine minutes long.

On the surface, Two Gallants appears to be an odd fit for Creek except for the fact that, other than maybe The Holy Ghost Revival, no one else sounds quite like them. Their music is unique, done without a scintilla of concern as to its commercial potential or critical acceptance. You’ll either “get it” (as most of the folks near the stage did) or get bored. I fall somewhere in the middle. Their songs always start out great, but lose me at about the five-minute mark, when I start to wonder how many verses I’m in for. A little goes a long way.

The duo played about 45 minutes and did a one-song encore (Stephens asked for an acoustic guitar, I think it was “All Your Fatherless Loyalties” off Lagniappe) then called it a night.

Outside of Sokol after the show I got a chance to meet tiny Lea — a very nice lady. Foley came out moments later, shirt unbuttoned exposing his white T-shirted gut. Before long there were about 20 people standing around on the sidewalk along 13th St. I snuck away wondering where their entourage of local indie musicians was headed next.

Tonight: The Heavenly States with Lincoln’s Eagle*Seagull at O’Leaver’s — the usual $5 and 9:30 start.

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