Listen to this show here.
Listen to Two Gallants and Cold War Kids with Rhapsody!
Words by: Shain Shapiro
Two Gallants & Cold War Kids :: 11.18.06 :: Paradiso :: Amsterdam, NL
Racial tolerance and actualizing its scornful history in North America remains a touchy, almost unspeakable subject in everyday life. Often just speaking about race is deemed intolerant, as we seem to prefer more of a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to learning about our differences. Yet how we project and improve the future hangs a lot on how we cope with the past, and as North Americans, we would rather be blissfully ignorant instead of pro-actively extrapolating the past and its problems in hopes to never go down the same road feeling bad again. In essence, slavery is kept under a somewhat vocalized lid in the mainstream. So the questions remain: "Who can speak of this?" "What is right to talk about and what is forbidden?" and most importantly, "How can we continue to improve our social relations to ensure the past is never repeated?"
Two Gallants by Charlie Villyard
All these unanswerable quandaries were ignited by a fantastic but perplexing show shared by San Francisco's Two Gallants and Fullerton, CA's Cold War Kids in Amsterdam. Both bands expel exhaustingly complex metaphors in their music, revolving around civil rights, slavery, death and equality. Yet both bands come from the California suburbs and are Caucasian. Both bands are heavily buttressed on the early blues, especially sharecropper and prison songs, and do not mince words in their lyrical schemes. Yet the members as so far removed from the life to which they refer. Songs about lynching, domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse are given the star treatment, ultimately grounded on the trials of the past and brewed on musical ideas from the present.
Heavy stuff indeed, but are these lads singing only perched atop a façade of historical knowledge, or have they scanned the blueprints and waltzed through the floor plans extensively before embarking on each melodic construction? Again, another unanswerable question, especially from a writer who knows little of their personality and can only gauge the metaphor on one specific night out. I will come back to this later, because much ado must be given to the quality and ingenuity that both bands exemplified in front of a sticky, sold-out audience of Dutch faithful.
Cold War Kids
The Cold War Kids began the evening with a riled-up range of angry blues, drunken folk and old fashioned rock that exemplified why these Californian lads have been on the receiving end of a continuous fellatio session from the mainstream music press. Tracks from their debut album Robbers and Cowards were featured, including the brilliant "Hang Me Out To Dry" and "Saint John." Trading licks about politicized electrocutions, fraternal infighting and cheap moonshine, the Cold War Kids never cowered amidst a bevy of distortion, pensive lyrics and crunchy rhythms, wielding off seven expressively thick tunes throughout their forty-minute slot, like their new single, "We Used to Vacation." With the heroin-injected veracity of the Velvet Underground as a ground map that twisted and turned through Southern fields populated by memorials of Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson, the Cold War Kids almost stole the show before the headliner even surfaced, as their spiced, clangy jumbo left every belly full with the main course waiting under the broiler. In addition, keyboardist Matt Aveiro has a brilliant voice, one that tickled each raucous line perfectly as if he was born for the blues. This was undoubtedly one of the best opening sets I have experienced this year.
Yet that does not discount the musical tenacity put forth by Two Gallants, who emerged a half-hour later and proceeded to further liquor up the audience with stories of past wrongs alongside incisive guitar lines and animalistic drum work. These young men make a hell of a lot of sound for a two-piece. And with lyrics that are so racially charged and historical that each rhyme screams in competition with the melody, the set was loud, but not just from the heightened decibel rate inside The Paradiso. Vocalist Adam Stephens sang so roughly, so angrily, that the vein in his neck was ready to burst after each chorus. While Stephens' vocal range becomes scratchy when screaming, he knew that each lyric needed to be yelled, fiercely, in hopes that everyone would listen to, hang on, and digest every word. Rotating between older and newer songs, covers and originals alike, including the Johnny Cash-tinged prison number "Las Cruces Jail," the symbolically rough "Long Summer Day," an acoustic "Crow Jane" and "The Prodigal Son," Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel viscerally attacked each song as if it was filled with prejudice, then batted down racial and musical boundaries, both within and without the blues.
In addition, these Two Gallants were patient, usually incorporating a post-rock approach in their dissemination that focused on emphasizing a quiet-to-loud aesthetic instead of blowing a proverbially distorted load within the first two bars. Consequently, each song was decisively longer, six or seven minutes I reckon, but harder-hitting, because the lyrics were given more time to stew, simmer and enrage. While the sheer limitations of being a two-piece wrung the melodic well dry towards the end of the set, Two Gallants proved that historical and racial rhetoric can be transcended into anything, as long as the balls and chains present themselves vigorously.
Two Gallants by Charlie Villyard
Now back to the all-encompassing questions concerning race and their relation to Two Gallants and the Cold War Kids. Here is my take - not only is it great that someone is bringing up and speaking about history as it should be spoken about, but by also throwing accessible, crazed melodies into the fold, the message becomes significantly more digestible. Therefore, the context is unimportant in relation to the content, which was not only polemically pensive, but hellishly enjoyable as well. Simply put, if more people talk, yell even, than eventually, others will listen.
Check out JamBase's feature/interviews with Two Gallants and Cold War Kids.
JamBase | Amsterdam
Go See Live Music!