Two Gallants have recently returned from a two year hiatus (during which time the duo each pursued solo projects) and so it has been a long, long wait to see them live for a lot of the people in the hot, sweaty and crowded Hoxton Square. Their popularity (such as it is) hasn’t waned, given that they sold out the first show so quickly they were forced to add a second. The band have returned with a plethora of new songs, and with a freshness that indicates the time away from Two Gallants can only have been good for them.

Guitarist and vocalist Adam Stephenson’s vocals entirely fill the room; his rough-yet-tender style and slightly nasal drawl washing over the audience like a wave of treacle and tar. His voice suits their song style perfectly; worn and weathered, weaving tales of an old, near-forgotten America; of love lost and of love spurned. Their songs have an undeniably Dylan-esque quality to them, and, if there were any justice in the world, they’d be placed on a pedestal right up there with him. As it is, they remain our little secret, and the sweltering venue helps bring to mind that scorching Old West of a forgotten era that Two Gallants conjure up with their story-driven sound.

But it’s not all about the songs and lyrics; they’re musically fantastic too. Drummer Tyson Vogel is a powerhouse. Often little more than a shaggy blur, his skittering, frantic rhythms lend the songs a sense of urgency and drive, complementing Stephenson’s wonderful, rootsy guitar-work perfectly. And when they sing together - despite it just being the two of them - it’s a tidal wave of barked intensity, and it’s impossible to deny. And when Stephenson gets his harmonica out midway through the set for ‘The Hand That Held Me Down’, it completes their sound (and frankly, it’s amazing that we didn’t notice that such an integral part had been missing up until then!).

The set-list is peppered with new songs, and, while they remain true to the Two Gallants sound, they are a little different; rockier, on the whole, with a bigger, more solid sound; at times they’re not a million miles away from Manchester Orchestra (certainly no bad thing!). There’s even a slight Ennio Morricone vibe running through one of them, just to keep the audience on their toes. An acoustic number, performed solo by Stephenson, helps to further highlight quite how much they can do with so little; their performance is not showy or fancy, these guys are just pure musicians (One suspects they barely even need instruments; Stephenson demonstrates that he has a mean whistle on him!).

And while the new songs sound immediately at home, the best reception is saved for some of the old favourites. ‘Nothing To You’ gets perhaps the best sing-along, while ‘Las Cruces Jail’ is magnificent, managing to sum up most of the band’s sound at once; fun and spirited, yet poignant and melancholy (the single rose resting on Tyson’s drum-kit makes for a similarly fitting metaphor for their music.) In fact, given the stifling, crowded conditions in the venue, it’s not hard to imagine we’re watching the performance from a jail-yard ourselves.

While it would have been good to hear some of the longer, more epic narrative songs (‘The Throes’, or ‘Crow Jane’, for example), Two Gallants are one of those bands where it doesn’t really matter what they do or don’t play, since you know whatever it is, it’s going to be brilliant; it’s just a pleasure to watch them ply their craft. An encore almost seems more effort than its worth, but when everyone begins shouting out myriad song requests at them, one lone voice in the crowd nails it; “just play what you want.”

And so they did; a rousing ‘Long Summer Day’ – a song written from the perspective of a black man suffering the oppression of his white boss – is introduced as “a song from our country” (one wonders if they’ve specified because they know the controversy it caused wouldn’t have occurred over here?). The band end on a subdued, acoustic rendition of ‘Seems Like Home To Me’. Some in the audience might have expected a more raucous note to go out on, but much like the rest of their set tonight, it’s actually rather perfect.

Two Gallants

Dark Moon

Photographer: Tim Ferguson