Unhinged eccentricity: Outside Lands night shows

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Andrew Bird whips the Indy into an enchanted forest.
PHOTO BY SHAUNA C. KEDDY

Last week saw two alternative rock favorites headlining local venues thanks to Outside Lands night shows: San Francisco punk-Americana duo Two Gallants, and master whistler-violinist Andrew Bird. Two Gallants rocked hard as hard as always, while Bird spun fantastical sounds and tales.

Two Gallants are most well known for their song "Despite What You've Been Told" (What the Toll Tells, 2006), which hit big as their career began to take off, leading to years of worldwide tours and a loyal following outside the Bay Area. Since then, shows in their home city have been even more appreciated and sought out by local fans.

Singer and guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel – best friends since childhood – are both strongly influenced by the blues. And its clear they give their all to every word sung and note played: be it a growling punk-inflected tune or a slower building, lovesick, blues-tinged ballad.

Their fifth studio album The Bloom and the Blight will be released Sept. 4, and the album cover features the duo goofing around as children. Vogel and Stephens are two of the most earnest musicians I have encountered; it's always gratifying to hear them thank their home city for coming out to a show. And last Wednesday at the Rickshaw Stop, Two Gallants played with a fervor that was completely contagious. Everyone around me sang and danced their hearts out.

 

Two Gallants at Rickshaw Shop. Photo by Shauna C. Keddy

You can always count on the audience at a Two Gallants show to sing along at the top of their lungs to their hit "Steady Rollin" – "I shot my wife today, dropped her body in the 'Frisco Bay...Death's coming, I'm still running. Well I come from the old time baby, too late for you to save me. If I remain, then I'm to blame." I felt so thankful for the Bay Area music scene while I rocked out with everyone else to this song, and for Vogel's heavy drumming, and Stephens' skilled guitar picking and harmonica playing. I even felt grateful during the opening set, for another local band: Future Twin, an act with hard-rocking, synth-filled songs and a great female lead singer.

The Rickshaw Stop was a classically humble choice for powerhouse Two Gallants duo. The red velvet curtains and comfortably small size always makes the venue feel welcoming, and the band played in front of a beautiful banner. True to their detailed album artwork in the past, the banner featured Tarot card-like artwork, depicting a person inside a sun, a snake wrapped around the sun, and a bird emerging from the center, with drops of water falling all around.

The huge crowd that packed into the Rickshaw left looking enlivened and delighted.

The following night brought Andrew Bird to the Independent, with Kelly Hogan opening. Bird has performed on more than 15 albums, with nine solo releases under his own name. His music only becomes more enchanting with each release.

His latest, Break it Yourself (Mom + Pop Music) was released this spring, and he is on a world tour with his band in support of this gorgeous album. Joining them is his sock monkey (adorned in a suit, button up shirt, tie and converse sneakers, no less), who can also be spotted in their appearance on Colbert Report, and all his late night TV spots. This is why Bird is so undeniably lovable – he embraces childlike whimsy, but it's all rooted in musicianship. While some of Bird's lyrics could fit in a childrens' lullaby, each song explores things on a deeply philosophical level, with a sound that carries these explorations perfectly.

He embodies the creative force of an artist who is just brimming with ideas: unless he's busy whipping up beautiful violin notes, his arms and hands are in almost constant motion as he narrates his tales. I pictured him as a wild conductor, conjuring the sounds around him as he closes his eyes and pictures it all taking form.

Bird and his band played each song last Thursday night with impeccable timing.

That's something the Outside Lands night show acts had in common. Both Bird and Two Gallants can be counted on for precision in sound, yet both also employ just the right amount of unhinged eccentricity. Two Gallants music brings to mind traveling alone on a country road, and then finally finding your loved ones gathered around a fire by the rivers edge. Bird's music could provide the soundtrack to a journey through an enchanted forest, complete with Dr. Seuss-like creatures. Conversely, While Two Gallants' sound can often be stripped down, translating raw emotion, Bird is known for featuring rich instrumental layers of sound.

For his newest album Bird took time away from his home-city of Chicago and recorded in his barn in Western Illinois, self-producing his album there. His whistling talents are also featured in last year's The Muppets (2011).

The stage at the Independent was adorned with Bird's spinning two-headed contraption-- which at first appears like an old gramophone. After some research, I discovered this is known as a Janus Horn (leave it to Bird to employ such an rare contraption), which spins in reaction to sound and creates a change in the sound pitch that it picks up.

Additionally, beautiful paper and wooden twisted conical shapes hung from either side of the stage and above the crowd, which turned slowly in time to the music as the lights shone through the sheer paper. Bird's attention to detail and craft created an altogether stunning night.